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Night Train Hardcover – January 12, 1998


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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 School Library Journal

YA?"Suicide is the night train, speeding your way to darkness." Detective Mike Hoolihan is a case-hardened policewoman, but this case is different. The dead woman is Jennifer Rockwell, the daughter of Mike's friend (and boss), Colonel Tom Rockwell, head of criminal investigation. Even though all the evidence points to suicide, Colonel Tom asks Mike to take another look. Everyone agrees that Jennifer had everything; she was beautiful, a brilliant astrophysicist with a promising career, in love with a professor at the university. Why suicide? As Mike probes the secrets of the deceased woman's life, she is forced to re-examine her own, and the decision she makes at the end of her investigation says as much about her as it does about Jennifer, or Colonel Tom. The author's portrayal of the conflicts and complexities of a criminal investigation is utterly convincing, the dialogue is authentic, and the writing is both spare and powerful. YAs who like detective stories will find themselves pulled into this investigation.?Molly Connally, Kings Park Library, Fairfax County, VA
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 175 pages
  • Publisher: Harmony (January 12, 1998)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0609601288
  • ISBN-13: 978-0609601280
  • Product Dimensions: 1 x 5.8 x 8.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 9.6 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (101 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #780,887 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Amis slums somewhat to provide realism, but this seems strange coming from him.
Troy Parfitt
It wasn't until I turned the page that I realized the book had ended, and I had to reread the last section to get where it was that Amis was heading.
aragoto
Amis seems to have a message better suited to an essay--perhaps; or maybe he does not have enough material for an essay.
T. Wasser

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

23 of 24 people found the following review helpful By Deacon Ficks on October 13, 2004
Format: Paperback
It seems to me that the bad reviews that readers shower upon Martin Amis, on Amazon, are written by people who get so lost in Amis' wordplay that they miss the usually uncomplicated point.

Firstly, Night Train is a beautiful novel in which our hero(?) Mike Hoolihan is forced to examine her self worth. Faced with the suicide of a "perfect" girl, Mike is forced to reconsider whether or not her own existence is worth prolonging. She points out, fairly early in the novel, that suicides are prone to leaving a vast variety of commentary for those they leave behind. These suicide notes vary in style and form.

Night Train IS Mike's suicide note. Some two hundred pages of explaination for her loved ones. In the process she manages to prove that her self image is twisted. She has admirers and friends but views herself as ultimately alone.

Anyone who didn't appreciate this novel, I'm convinced, missed the point that what they were reading was something personal intended for Mike's loved ones. A farewell that was meant, as suicide notes usually are, to comfort, explain and beg forgiveness for their author's actions.
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful By Fairbanksreader on October 28, 2001
Format: Hardcover
This is one of those books that can not be characterized as a single genre. It is a compilation of mystery, psychological suspense, and an exploration of the impact of death and suicide on those close to the victim. Mr. Amis' writing is superb. He uses a concise and hard-hitting style to narrate the examination of an apparent suicide of the daughter of a police officer. I could not put the book down and I asked my husband to read it so that we could discuss it together. As a clinical social worker and psychotherapist, I found it profoundly insightful about the mysteries of death and suicide.
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24 of 29 people found the following review helpful By Robert Stribley on November 14, 1998
Format: Hardcover
Much has been written below about Amis's Night Train, and it's interesting to see so many divergent opinions about a single book. I wish only to broach a couple of subjects, rather than give my overall impression of the book (I've reviewed it elsewhere).
First, to address the complaint that NT isn't good detective fiction. One writer complained that Amis has failed at detective fiction and should go back to writing modern fiction. Night Train *is* modern fiction. Amis has adopted the voice of noir fiction to tell another of his typically post-modern stories. The bulk of Amis's work is both satirical and thought-provoking. Night Train doesn't stray from this pre-established territory. If the reader is angered because NT's ending is something other than concrete, because things unraveled instead of being compartmentalized and shunted into pretty, neat, explainable bundles, then he or she has simply chosen the wrong book to read and should probably have picked up Elmore Leonard's latest instead. That doesn't mean Amis was unsuccessful in his endeavor.
Second, as to the complaint that the crime remains unsolved: bollocks. I think a close reading (you cannot successfully read this book thinking it to be a simple detective story)reveals that Amis is again satirizing modern society. I don't have the book in front of me, but I remember the essence of parts which discuss the following idea: in an are where motiveless murder is so common as to be mundane, what (area of crime, if you will) does that leave unexplored? Motiveless suicide. I'm oversimplifying what Amis wrote for the sake of brevity, but the seadlings for your own thought are certainly planted within those pages. I'll agree that the ending is somewhat nebulous.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Jeff VINE VOICE on July 27, 2009
Format: Paperback
I found Night Train to be a maddening contradiction. There is some damn brilliant prose in this book. There are a few really trenchant observations about American life. And then there are some really clumsy, hack handed passages that come across as mean spirited and off target.

But more than anything else is the ending that really isn't. The reader can take the last few paragraphs of the book and interpret it in a lot of ways, far more than most books. At the end of Night Train, the reader finds himself looking at himself through the reflection of a fogged fun house mirror. The image that the reader sees is not about the characters in the book, the very thin plot, or bromides about American culture. Rather, what we see are ourselves, our questions about what really happened, and our realization that often brilliant prose has led to unanswered questions and our own faces staring back at us.

I seldom write a review by reading other reader's comments, but I was so torn by this book that I wanted to see if I had just missed the point.

Two things stood out after reading a dozen or so reviews. First of all, the stratification of rankings is almost symmetric across 1-5 stars. That's really unique for Amazon rankings, where usually a book is either well liked or disliked. Secondly, the things the 1 star reviewers disliked vehemently were some of the same things the 5 star reviewers lauded.

I have NEVER seen that before in any Amazon review.

If you're a fan of detective novels or noir, I'd skip this book. The lack of definiteness at the end is going to drive you nuts, unless you're a closet deconstructionist in your philosophical nature.
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