IRWIN SHAW – Nightwork. Delacorte Press, hardcover, 1975. Dell, paperback, 1976. Further reprint editions exist.

    …the virtues for which heroes were celebrated were such commonplaces as courage, generosity, guile, fidelity, and faith, and hardly ever included, as far as I could remember, aplomb. But in our uneasy time, when most of us hardly know where we stand, cannot say with confidence whether we are rising or falling, advancing or retreating, whether we are loved or hated, despised or adored, aplomb attains, at least for people like myself, a primary importance. Whatever Miles Fabian may have lacked, he had aplomb.

   Doug Grimes is a pilot with a stutter and not much of a future when he discovers he has a rare eye disease that won’t blind him, but certainly grounds him. Now he works as night man at the St. Augustine hotel, a dangerous enough job, but at thirty-three, though fit and smart, Doug Grimes is headed nowhere fast.

   Men at crisis, any sort of crisis, middle age, ennui, marriage, family, divorce, business, are the stuff of many books and stories by Irwin Shaw, the bestselling story teller whose fiction from The Young Lions to Rich Man Poor Man chronicled life in the latter half of the 20th Century, primarily for the male half of the population in novels like Two Weeks In Another Town, Evening in Byzantium, Top of the Hill, and gem perfect stories like “Tip on a Dead Jockey” — and those are just some of the ones made into movies.

   Few writers did it half as well as Shaw, with half the grace or style, and because his stories covered the whole of life, once in a while crime played into that. In Nightwork he chose to do something a bit lighter and more playful, and it should come as no surprise that he did so with panache.

   It begins, not surprisingly, with a woman. A woman who shows up at Doug’s desk in the St. Augustine on a cold January night to inform him there is the body of a naked old man upstairs. Beside him is a cardboard tube Doug decides to hide from the police, and inside the cardboard tube is $100,000 dollars in ones.

   And being at sixes and sevens, Doug does what almost anyone in a Shaw novel might do, he quits his job, leaves town, gets a passport in a hurry with a help of friend he used to ski with, and gets the hell out of Dodge headed for Switzerland and the skiing, but not until he discovers the manager of the St. Augustine is in the hospital after two men roughed him up for no reason.

   And it is there, in St. Moritz, he meets Miles Fabian, and the game is on.

   “Dear old Miles. He’s not an honest man, but he’s a joyous one. And he gives joy to others. I’m not the one to say, but maybe one is more important than the other.”

   Nightwork, I should mention, is a novel and not a thriller or caper. However much it flirts with the conventions of the genre, it is not about plot half so much as character, about a sort of late coming of age for the hero, and the magic brought into his life by the fabulous and not entirely scrupulous, Miles Fabian. Shaw is a much different writer, but this may remind you of some of the lighter novels of Graham Greene and Eric Ambler.

   Nightwork is a delight, smart, playful, real, human, and yet bubbly as good champagne with the kick of a Rye chaser. It is a heartfelt novel, one to read if you are in a sour mood or down on the world, Shaw’s idea of an old fashioned good read, and frankly mine too. As Shaw has his hero comment near the end of the book; “There’s nothing like a good deed for shining in a naughty world.”

    Nightwork is a good deed in a naughty world.