The protagonist is Lee Scarborough, a one-time football star who failed to go pro after an injury. He meets a bathing beauty who convinces him to take part in a heist with her - the money is already stolen so stealing it from the thief won't result in any problems. It's not like she can go to the police, right?
That just sounds like a recipe for disaster and of course, it's all downhill from there. But man, what a ride it is.
One of the things about noir that many people fail to recognize is that noir is not just crime stories - in fact, there doesn't technically have to be any crime involved in a story for it to be noir (though, of course, there often is). Noir is, essentially, people with doom hanging over their heads--often doom of their own making--struggling against hopeless odds. And that's exactly what Lee Scarborough is up against here.
Once a winner, now a many-times-over loser, Lee has any number of chances to walk away from what he knows is a bad idea, but he convinces himself to go ahead anyway and keeps on losing. Right from the start, the supposedly-simple heist is anything but, and as things keep getting darker and the stakes keep getting higher, he digs himself into a deeper hole trying to find his way back to the sunlight. Does that ever work? Of course not, but we wouldn't be reading if it did, I suppose.
While Lee is the protagonist, arguably the real star of the novel is Madelon Butler, the would-be-target of the heist. She is the coldest, toughest woman in any fiction I've read - maybe the coldest character ever. She's almost inhuman she's so cool and unflappable. For all that, you can't help but be fascinated by her, even if you can't like her. Her machinations throughout the novel--sometimes obvious, sometimes so subtle it'd be easy to miss them--are incredible and really drive the story. In the end, it turns out she was the 'hero' all along. And her dialogue, whether she's needling Lee or trying to seduce him, is brilliant. I hope Butler was created wholly from Williams's imagination rather than someone he knew, because a real-life Madelon Butler would be insanely dangerous to even know.
I don't want to give much away about this book because I want you to read it. This is the first Charles Williams novel I've read, but it absolutely won't be the last. Do yourself a favor and pick up a copy of this book. If you like noir, pulp fiction or just a good story, you won't regret it for a moment.