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.
NB having read some other reviews since writing this one, it strikes me that a lot depends on whether we are to read Mike as offing herself at the end with drink or not. I understood not, and rated it accordingly--if I was intended to understand so, that makes this novel even bleaker and uglier and more heavy-handed and therefore worse.
Martin Amis' Night Train tracks a heroine, a deep-voiced, incredibly sensitive, female cop, who works around mean, unhappy men. Amis' heroine speaks in first person as she unravels the mystery of the death of one of her sort-of friends. That friend was a beautiful, let me stress that she was breathtakingly beautiful, brilliant, but depressed young woman, who dies by gunshot to the head in the book's opening scenes. She speaks in the second person.
It seems that these two disparate creations are yoked to one another, as the heroine investigates who killed the beauty. Eventually (it's not a huge suprise), you find out that the beauty offed herself. Why? Because the world is such and ugly place, you're better being part of it, even if that means you're an alcoholic cop. Perfection and sophistication can't save you. Even perfection itself is mortal. But, beauty leaves a roadmap for her investigator. Being inexorably tied to the cop, she lays a roadmap leading to her killer: herself.
Why would a brilliant, beautiful woman, with no apparent problems kill herself? This was the toughest part of the story for me to feel comfortable with. She kills herself because she can. She's sad because there isn't anything out there. Her family doesn't provide her comfort and can't sheild her from nothingness, from death itself. The world has nothing to offer her (so she thinks). It holds no secrets, no mystery, no pot 'o gold at the end. She's a physicist for whom there are no mathmatical questions she can't answer. She starts making up the numbers to her experiments, perhaps because everything is too predictable to her. There's simply no point to continuing, since the end is the same. Whether she meets her end 90 years from now, or at the barrel of a gun, "Black holes mean oblivion. Mean death."
Yuck. How sad. The whole book exudes sadness, grief. The only glimmer of hope is that the heroine wrestles with oblivion and wins. It's a small triumph if you ask me, because she takes no happiness in the defeat.
This creates a paradox: the dead girl's love and care which leads her to leave clues for the detective is what saves the detective from devaluing human life. The dead girl kills herself. Amis in the heroines first person, metallic voice says "Suicide is the night train...speeding your way into darkness...this train takes you into the night, and leaves you there" except that isn't what the beauty's death does. It sheds light on everything. It wasn't without purpose, at least to the heroine. And what does the beauty care, she's dead. Her life and her death must have had some purpose, or she would have left clues for the heroine to discover. She knew her death would provide insights into life. Love, something which nihilism says does exist, is what drives her to care.
It's the Neitzche effect on a detective novel. God is dead. Don't think about the afterlife. Think about the now. Be earthly. Be like the heroine. Worship no absolute, enjoy the grit. God, the beauty, perfection, afterlife, it can't save you and it can't offer you anything earthy (EXCEPT HERE IT INSPIRES THE HEROINE TO SAVOR LIFE). Don't look for life's purpose, you wont find one, and, if you do, then you're just lying to yourself, trying to make yourself feel better by clasping tightly to the chimeric rags of a ghost.
I'm not a nihilist if that isn't obvious already. I get it, but I just don't agree, nor do I like it. The book was well-written. I enjoyed it (in a twisted way), but I just don't like the suicide theory that drives this Night Train.
Night Train does not work on any level. Despite having read and watched American police genres, American is clearly a foreign language to Amis—he could have used a translator. Just a glaring example, Mike visits the doctor at his “surgery.” An American would of course say “office,” as the term “surgery” means an operation that involves a scalpel. And I simply do not believe the silly construction of “I am a police” that is repeated for seemingly no reason.
The narrator (and main character) is an unattractive and unbelievable caricature. A girl named Mike. Walks like a boy, talks like a boy, but wants to be a girl. Sort of like having two tits on a bull.
The worst part of the book is that it is not a novel or story at all, but rather a Bunyonesque parable. Jennifer Rockford is not merely an excellent human specimen, but a perfect human being. Mike would be a stereotypical “Law & Order” tough cop with an interesting (if predictable) psychological background, except for Amis’s awkward overlay of a British sensibility on an ostensibly American character. In fact every character is merely a type or a two-dimensional symbol. Amis seems to have a message better suited to an essay—perhaps; or maybe he does not have enough material for an essay. The point merely being that we are headed for nothingness. It may be a profound truth, but has no more substance to it than the nothingness itself.
Well, I am a English-speaking reader, and I didn't like it.
Amis writes this in a very staccato, sparse style but conveys a considerable range of emotion, plot, intrigue, and personal history of Mike. Well worth reading.
Somehow this just doesn't read like genre fiction. When Amis does small, he has the power to make it big, and here is a prime example. The book works so well, and so effortlessly; when, after a little time it ends, there's a hole where once lay your heart.
Mike is a woman with a nicotine voice, dyed blond hair and is an alcoholic who had been abused by her father.
The victim is Jennifer Rockwell, who Mike had known since Jenn was a little girl. Jenn is the daughter of Mike's former boss, Col. Tom Rockwell who is as close to a father figure that Mike has.
After viewing the body, Mike speculates that Jenn did commit suicide but when she tells Tom, he can't accept that and asks Mike to take a second look.
The medical report is that there are mulitple bullets in Jenn. Could her finger have frozen while pulling the trigger? Why would this seemingly happy, well adjusted, beautiful woman commit suicide? Why is there no suicide note? These are the things that Mike must answer.
The author has given the reader an appealing character in Mike Holligan. Amis must have been feeling mischievous when creating Mike's characteristics.
I was drawn into the story as it went along and found it quite delightful.
The novel centers around a female detective, Mike Hoolihan's, inquest into the apparent suicide of her commanding officer and paternal figure's daughter Jennifer, our femme fatale who had seemingly everything to live for. Typical of the genre, we have smoke lit diners, brutal autopsies and hard tac dialogue, but Amis probes further into the depths of what motivates human behavior. Hoolihan not only investigates not just intelligible unhappiness, but the vast cosmic space where human joy and pain are ultimately rendered trivial. Night Train, at its core, is a meditation on post modernity, for which there is no solution for the problems presented.
Along with exploring mortality, the inexorable presence of death, Amis also succeeds in making trenchant observations about modern American culture. Present throughout the novel are claims that media informs and in turn creates a reality where everyone seeks some form of sterilized closure. A critique of this sociological condition, Night Train does the exact opposite, leaving the reader with gaping wounds and lingering questions.