Night train : a novel

by Martin Amis

Hardcover, 1997




New York : Harmony Books, c1997.


Detective Mike Hoolihan, an American Policewoman, a police in cop parlance, begins to investigate the suspicious death of Jennifer, a police colleague's daughter. 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 - tree shots to the head; could be 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 readers mind.

Media reviews

Sonst reden die "Detectives" in einem autistisch anmutenden Polizeislang, der schon im Englischen unglaubwürdig und künstlich wirkt. Joachim Kalkas grobschlächtige Übersetzung verschlimmert das Original noch. Zwar ist das Gemisch aus ungrammatikalischer Polizei-Fachsprache, abkürzenden
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Benennungen von Einrichtungen, die es in Deutschland nicht gibt, und sprachlichen Klischees nur schwer ins Deutsche zu retten; doch verschwendet Kalka seine Erfindungskunst daran, passende deutsche Worte zu ignorieren (aus "plainclothes" macht er "Detective in Zivil" statt "Zivilfahnder"), den Ton des Buches zu mißachten, Sätze wegzulassen, die Kapitel-Einteilung zu verändern. Und der Titel des Romans war wohl auch nicht des Nachdenkens wert. Aber wenn Martin Amis - wie der von Mike konsultierte Autor des Ratgebers "Den Selbstmord begreifen" - ein "lausig geschriebenes, außerdem selbstgefälliges" Buch schreiben wollte, hat er in Kalka einen kongenialen Übersetzer gefunden.
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User reviews

LibraryThing member MeditationesMartini
John Updike criticized Amis's stab at American vernacular in Night Train, I'd say rightly, but overall this is a cold-bloodedly insistent rearranging of the traditional police procedural, good for a couple of hours of reflection on the unpleasantness of being. It doesn't quite close the deal,
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though--the ending presents cheap nihilism as though it were profound, a teenage move,and makes you want to sit Amis down, but him a drink, compliment him on his book, argue with him about how hope is amoral necessity because despair is a self-fulfilling prophecy, and then get up, knocking over your chair, gesture inarticulately at some babies or sunflowers, storm out and go read some magic realism or something.

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.
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LibraryThing member Voracious_Reader
Nihilism tastes bad to me, and love's topping doesn't make it any sweeter.


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
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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.
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LibraryThing member ben_a
The first Martin Amis I have read. He clearly has talent, but this is not a success. If I never read another novel in which the world "semen" features prominently, that would be just fine. (3.6.08)
LibraryThing member pwoodford
The most jarring opening sentence of all the Martin Amis novels: "I am a police."

Well, I am a English-speaking reader, and I didn't like it.
LibraryThing member Banbury
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
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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.
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LibraryThing member soylentgreen23
A short book, and within the Amis canon, relatively minor, this is still a must-read. A promising astrophysicist commits suicide by way of three shots to the head. Apparently it can take up to seven. A defeated, jaded detective investigates - was it murder?

Somehow this just doesn't read like genre
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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.
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LibraryThing member John
Mike Houlihan. Female police. Acerbic and tough: physically and emotionally--at least on the outside. Called in to investigate the suicide/murder of Jennifer. Incredibly beautiful, stable, successful, daughter of former chief of police. Suspects murder. Because Jennifer was so perfect there could
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be no other explanation. But after false starts, the clues lead to suicide. Clues laid by Jennifer herself. Knowing that Mike would be called upon. Knowing that Mike would see how the signals and hints only mesh if suicide is the climax. In the end, one can know the patterns, see the how and the when, but one can never really know the why. Why the firing of the synapses of a "perfect" life would lead to its deliberate destruction.

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.
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LibraryThing member dawnpen
The first time it doesn't happen you sigh and it's very hot and it feels wet. The next time it is a failure, but you have to find faith in that, in what you are doing. More than anything else, that there is will. There is will to do the thing you are doing. Period. Then there is of course, a
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period, for chrissake, finally.
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LibraryThing member Philip_Lee
Don't read this pot boiler. If you're an Amis fan, you'll only be disappointed. It's cack. It could be called "Cagney OR Lacey" since there is no character and no plot. Actually, that would be fine if this were any other of Martin's books. The steal is: no dazzling language abounds. Not a bit.
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Yeah, "I am a police..." - the opening sentence does set up some kind of literary expectations - which are soon foiled. God knows why he wrote this. I'd say, to fulfil some ghastly contractual situation with the publishers. When my cousin sent it to me in proof copy, I was rubbing my hands with delight. By page 20, though, I was staring out of the gift horse's arse.
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LibraryThing member flissp
a very absorbing read, i read this very quickly. that said, i found it extremely hard to sympathise with any of the characters, none of whom were particularly convincing, in particular the beautiful wonderful girl who kills herself. i really disliked this book, it left a very bad taste in my mouth.
LibraryThing member nbsp
Amazing book. One of those that makes you really look at people and wonder and, at times, avoid their eyes completely. It may be a temporary effect but it's powerful. I loved Amis' The Information for its clever language and plot. But I'm appreciating his range now. Night Train appears to be merely
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an effective detective novel but becomes an intense psychological suspense story as well. Another bonus is that Night Train doesn't have you searching for your dictionary as is sometimes the case with Amis.
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LibraryThing member ccayne
This was recommended to me as a perfect book by a woman and author whom I respect so I took it home and read it. I loved it for its immediacy and rawness. Amis puts you in the head of a police, a woman named Mike, as she investigates the suicide of a young, beautiful woman, the daughter of a
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high-ranking police. Needless to say, the plot is grim but the writing is excellent. To me it felt very American and very real. I thought Amis, a British man, did a great job of bringing a complex character to life with a sense of immediacy. I didn't read this book as a mystery but as a character study and it succeeded admirably.
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LibraryThing member Laine-Cunningham
This is one of those books that sneaks up on you. As the pages turn, even though the story is short, it drives forward until it packs a big punch.
LibraryThing member bcrowl399
I started out liking this book, the formatting for the dialog, the plot, etc. I was very disappointed in the end. It was too abrupt and maybe I'm not too bright, but I wasn't sure what happened. I don't need a detailed explanation of "whodunnit", but this wasn't exactly clear.. I'm not sure I will
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read another book by this author.
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LibraryThing member Casey_Marie
In his ninth publication, Amis presents the reader with a tightly constructed, hyper focused, somber short novel. Night Train deftly upends the conventions of the crime procedural novel and noir itself. The shimmering darkness of reality is present, along with dialogue that is both punchy and
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mellifluous, but Amis refuses to tie together the strands of mystery at the end of his novel. Instead, he let's them unravel and become as chaotic as the nexus between human motivation and action.

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.
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LibraryThing member thornton37814
Female detective Mike Hoolihan investigates the suicide of the daughter of her commanding officer. There really isn't a lot of plot here. What we see instead is an examination of humanity. The work is too gritty for my tastes. There are some aspects to the novel that those who appreciate
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psychological examinations of life will appreciate.
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LibraryThing member lydia1879
I went through an Amis phase, and this was one of the casualties.

I don't normally read crime, but I made an exception because it was Amis. Now, this book is entirely forgettable except for the fact that the narrator is a woman, but the voice was exceedingly masculine.

It felt like an homage to all
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those old hard-boiled detective novels, except it wasn't. It was something else -- I want to say 'edgier' but 'edgier' is the wrong word. Gritty, maybe?

Weird that I was so obsessed with this author and can now remember precious little about this work.
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LibraryThing member ptdilloway
I really wonder if any cop has ever actually said "I am a police." It sounds weird.
LibraryThing member larryking1
One time I met British novelist Margaret Drabble and when I made mention of her fellow scribe Martin Amis, she bristled! I had said the wrong thing! Furthur research into Mr Amis revealed that this enfant terrible of British letters (he has up to now written 14 novels) has always been somewhat of a
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provocateur. But the man can write! The New Yorker called him a "Style Supremist." Night Train is a noirish detective story set in America. Our hero is a police woman and she must decide if a suicide was really a murder. Her investigation is a study of the human soul and its predicaments. This dark story is a bitter pill of a book, suffused with suffering. I liked it very much. Why? As Amis himself once said, "only in art will the lion lie down with the lamb, and the rose grow without thorn."
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LibraryThing member mikedraper
New York Detective Mike Hoolihan is called to the scene of an apparent suicide.

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
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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.
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