40 Down 12 Left (52 Books, 52 Weeks)

I usually stay away from crime novels, but Martin Amis’ Night Train might well have made me a convert. Crime novel back cover blurbs are almost always badly written as a rule, involving some grizzly detective from the school of hard knocks, with enough baggage for a freight car to transport, usually in the form of dead partners or wives. They’re usually in for the most dangerous and challenging case of their lives, which they might solve as long as they don’t die first from their drug of choice, usually cigarettes and alcohol.

Night Train has the prerequisite alcoholic, square-jawed stereotype of this hero in the form of Detective Mike Hoolihan. Except Mike is a woman, and a police. Not policewoman, mind. According to Mike, she’s a member of a race called police, ‘which is obliged to hate every other race’. Like a train on rails, there’s a suicide that isn’t all it appears to be, and Mike is put on the case as the only person who can sort it all out.

We follow as Mike dutifully gets leads and works through a list of suspects, but things get strangely introspective as Mike gets drawn deeper and deeper into Jennifer Rockwell’s death. Jennifer was her boss’s daughter, and the bright, sunny antithesis to Mike’s damaged goods. As the case progresses, we get sunk deeper and deeper into Mike’s psyche as she struggles to understand why someone with so much to live for would eat a bullet.

While nothing much really happens by way of plot and Night Train contains all the classic (cliched?) elements of crime stories, the writing is the absolutely most gripping noir I’ve read since anything, and all my reservations about the book melted away after reading the following passage –

Some say you can’t top the adrenalin (and the dirty cash) of Narcotics, and all agree that Kidnapping is a million laughs (if murder in America is largely black on black, then kidnapping is largely gang on gang), and Sex Offenses has its followers, and Vice has its votaries, and Intelligence means what it says (Intelligence runs deep, and brings in the deep-sea malefactors), but everyone is quietly aware that Homicide is the daddy. Homicide is the Show.

Martin Amis may be making the news all over now for his unpopular views on Islam and terrorism, but damn if he doesn’t write a tight turn of phrase. Night Train is a whole lot better than I thought it would be, and I guess it certainly was the Show indeed.

Night Train
(ISBN No: 0099748711) Check NLB Catalogue for item availability.

My next book will be Gentry Lee’s Bright Messengers.


2 Responses to “40 Down 12 Left (52 Books, 52 Weeks)”

  1. 1 Ivan Chew October 12, 2006 at 1:34

    Steady lah, 12 more sia… and your reviews quite solid some more. *bow*

  2. 2 billy October 12, 2006 at 23:12

    tough, man. now got a lot of readings to do for school and all. can tell i’ve been reading all the quick, easy books recently.

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