BlurbOn 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.
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