Martin Amis Night Train

ISBN 13: 9780224050180

Night Train

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9780224050180: Night Train

I'VE SEEN THEM ALL: JUMPERS, STUMPERS, DUMPERS, DUNKERS, BLEEDERS, FLOATERS, POPPERS, BUSTERS...BUT OF ALL THE BODIES I HAVE EVER SEEN NONE HAS STAYED WITH ME, IN MY GUT LIKE THE BODY OF JENNIFER ROCKWELL...' So says Detective Mike Hoolihan, an American policewoman, a police in cop parlance - a term which acknowledges that gender is not what a good cop is about. Mike begins to investigate the suspicious death of Jennifer, a police colleague's daughter, a girl too blessed in looks and love and intelligence to want to exit life. The evidence swings towards suicide - the gun in her hand, the suicide note, the secret history of depression and drug addiction, and then swings away-three shots to the head; could a suicide administer THREE, and why does the autopsy reveal no sign of drug abuse? As Mike probes further into Jennifer's life and death, she approaches the puzzle at the dark heart of the case: 'If not who, then why?' That unanswerable question resonates throughout this haunting short novel and even when Mike announces her investigation concluded and case closed, it lingers in her reader's mind.

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Review:

On a beautiful night in a second-tier American city, a beautiful astrophysicist with the clichéd everything to live for shoots herself dead with a .22. Tough-talking detective Mike Hoolihan, quickly summoned to the scene, has witnessed every sort of victim: "Jumpers, stumpers, dumpers, dunkers, bleeders, floaters, poppers, bursters." But this case is different. Mike has known the young woman for years--she's the daughter, it turns out, of Mike's mentor, Colonel Tom Rockwell. And the colonel is desperate to find a perp, despite massive evidence to the contrary.

In Night Train, Martin Amis has fixed his sights on the American female--with a difference. Mike is in fact a woman--a hulking, chain-smoking, deep-voiced alcoholic who comes complete with a squalid family background and a none-too-happy foreground. She even lives in a building next to the proverbial night train and can't survive without her tape with eight different versions of the R & B "hymn to the low rent."

Did this novel begin as narrative flexing, yet another test the hypertalented author--and number-one Elmore Leonard fan--wanted to pose to himself? If so, he has passed with flying colors. True, Mike's search occasionally pushes her up against pulp pathos, but mostly the genre keeps Amis true. "Police are pretty blasé about ballistics. Remember the Kennedy assassination and 'the magic bullet'? We know that every bullet is a magic bullet. Particularly the .22 roundnose. When a bullet enters a human being, it has hysterics. As if it knows it shouldn't be there."

Mike spends her time weighing the evidence, wishing it would point to murder, and letting us in on some current police realities. Whatever television tells us, in real life (not to mention postmodern crime fiction), there's no neat solution. Even that old standard, the good cop-bad cop approach, no longer works: "It's not just that Joe Perp is on to it, having seen good cop-bad cop a million times on reruns of Hawaii Five-O. The only time bad cop was any good was in the old days, when he used to come into the interrogation room every ten minutes and smash your suspect over the head with the yellow pages." With such discourses, Amis is stretching the rubber band of his book's realism. But in the end, all his fancy footwork doesn't stop us from admiring and pitying his heroine, and hoping she won't board the ultimate night train: suicide.

From the Inside Flap:

Detective Mike Hoolihan has seen it all. A fifteen-year veteran of the force, she's gone from walking a beat, to robbery, to homicide. But one case--this case--has gotten under her skin.
When Jennifer Rockwell, darling of the community and daughter of a respected career cop--now top brass--takes her own life, no one is prepared to believe it. Especially her father, Colonel Tom. Homicide Detective Mike Hoolihan, longtime colleague and friend of Colonel Tom, is ready to "put the case down." Suicide. Closed. Until Colonel Tom asks her to do the one thing any grieving father would ask: take a second look.
Not since his celebrated novel Money has Amis turned his focus on America to such remarkable effect. Fusing brilliant wordplay with all the elements of a classic whodunit, Amis exposes a world where surfaces are suspect (no matter how perfect), where paranoia is justified (no matter how pervasive), and where power and pride are brought low by the hidden recesses of our humanity.

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Amis, Martin
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