Summary: In British suspense writer Stephen Leather's new novel "Nightfall (Nightingale: Book One)," Jack Nightingale is a private dick with a dark past, a stack of unpaid bills, a sexy secretary, a bottle of booze in his desk, and a lit cigarette hanging from his lips. Out of nowhere, Jack receives a message from his recently-deceased biological father: "Sorry, kid, but I sold your soul to a devil. She'll be dropping by on your 33rd birthday to pick it up." That's just a couple of weeks away, so when people around him begin dying and random people start telling him "You're going to hell, Jack Nightingale," Jack knows he has to take this crazy message seriously. But what can he do?
The Bad: Packed with cliche, and slow, slow, S-L-O-W. By the middle of the novel, I was wondering whether Leather was going to save Jack's 33rd birthday for the third volume in this planned trilogy. (Answer: No, fortunately.)
The Good: I'm not familiar with Leather's other work, but he's obviously a skilled and occasionally-thoughtful writer. Despite the torpid pace of "Nightfall," he's able to maintain enough tension and mystery to keep his not-quite-bored-to-tears readers turning the pages. Jack's conversations with with clergy and others about death, heaven, and hell resonate, at least a little, and some of the atmospheric bits are well done. (That does NOT include the repeated scratching sounds Jack hears at his dad's house or the even more frequently repeated lamentations about how you can't smoke in bars anymore.) Most of the humor is hackneyed film noir banter, but it's still entertaining. And, finally, the book's conclusion is not half-bad: it resolves enough to satisfy readers but leaves enough up in the air to justify a second volume.
Additional comment: We know from the get-go that Jack's dad sold his soul to a devil (not THE devil, FWIW), and that the devil is going to be coming to collect it. Leather makes (almost) no effort to suggest that this is NOT what's going to happen. That being the case, to put off the inevitable until late in the book is (figurative) torture. Maybe Leather WANTED to frustrate readers. I don't know, but that's definitely what he does in "Nightfall".
Bottom line: This is an OK book. I read so little horror that I can't say how it compares to similar novels in the same genre. I can say, however, that it is both less exciting and less imaginative than kindred books in dark urban fantasy, like Jim Butcher's Dresden Files or Kat Richardson's Greywalker series. I wouldn't tell anybody to run out and buy this book, but if you're stuck in the airport and there's nothing else appealing on the shelves, you could do worse.