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.
About the Author
Date of Birth:August 25, 1949
Place of Birth:Oxford, England
Education:B.A., Exeter College, Oxford
Read an Excerpt
The Psychological Autopsy
Suicide is the night train, speeding your way to darkness. You won't get there so quick, not by natural means. You buy your ticket and you climb on board. That ticket costs everything you have. But it's just a one-way. This train takes you into the night, and leaves you there. It's the night train.
Now I feel that someone is inside of me, like an intruder, her flashlight playing. Jennifer Rockwell is inside of me, trying to reveal what I dont want to see.
Suicide is a mind-body problem that ends violently and without any winner.
I've got to slow this shit down. I've got to slow it all down.
What I'm doing here, with my ballpoint, my tape recorder, and my PC--its the same as what Paulie No was doing in the ME's office, with his clamp, his electric saw, his trayfull of knives. Only we call it the psychological autopsy.
I can do this. I am trained to do this.
For a time, though only a short time, and only once to my face, they used to call me "Suicide Mike." This was thought to be too offensive, even for downtown, and they soon abandoned it. Offensive not to the poor bastards found slumped in carseats in sealed garages, or half submerged in crimson bathtubs. Offensive to me: It meant I was fool enough to take any bum call. Because a suicide didn't do a damn thing for your solve rate or your overtime. On the midnights the phone would ring and Mac or O'Boye would be pouting over the cupped receiver and saying, How about you handle this one, Mike? Its an s.d. and I need dough for my mother's operation. A suspicious death--not the murder he craves. For little-boy-lost here also believes that suicides are an insult to his forensic gifts. He wants a regular perpetrator. Not some schmuck who, a century ago, would have been buried at the four-corners, under a heap of rocks, with a stake through his heart. Then for a time--a short time, as I say--they'd hold out the phone and deadpan, It's for you, Mike. Its a suicide. And then I'd yell at them. But they weren' t wrong, maybe. Maybe it moved and compelled me more than it did them, to crouch under the bridge on the riverbank, to stand in a rowhouse stairwell while a shadow rotated slowly on the wall, and think about those who hate their own lives and choose to defy the terrible providence of God.
As part of my job I completed, as many others did, the course called "Suicide: Harsh Conclusions," at Pete, and followed that up, again on city time, with the refresher lecture series on "Patterns of Suicide," at CC. I came to know the graphs and diagrams of suicide, their pie segments, their concentric circles, their color codes, their arrows, their snakes and ladders. With my Suicide Prevention tours, back in the Forty-Four, plus the hundred-some suicides I worked in the Show, I came to know not just the physical aftermaths but the basic suicide picture, ante mortem.
And Jennifer doesn't belong here. She doesn't belong.
I have my folders out on the couch, this Sunday morning. Going through my notes to see what I got:
-In all cultures, risk of suicide increases with age. But not steadily. The diagonal graph-line seems to have a flattish middle section, like a flight of stairs with a landing. Statistically (for what stats are worth around here), if you make it into your twenties, you're on level ground until the risk bump of the midlife.
Jennifer was twenty-eight.
- About 50 percent of suicides have tried before. They are parasuicides or pseudosuicides. About 75 percent give warning. About 90 percent have histories of egression--histories of escape.
Jennifer hadn't tried before. So far as I know, she did not give warning. All her life she saw things through.
- Suicide is very, very means-dependent. Take the means away (toxic domestic gas, for instance) and the rate plummets.
Jennifer didn't need gas. Like many another American, she owned a gun.
These are my notes. What about their notes, and what percentage leave them? Some studies say 70 percent, others say 30. Suicide notes, it is assumed, are often spirited away by the decedents loved ones. Suicides, as we have seen, are often camouflaged--smudged, snowed.
Axiom: Suicides generate false data.
Jennifer, apparently, did not leave a suicide note. But I know she wrote one. I just feel this.
It may run in families but it's not inherited. It is a pattern, or a configuration. It's not a predisposition. If your mother kills herself, it wont help, and it opens a door . . .
Here are some other do's and dont's. Or dont's, anyway:
Don't work around death. Don't work around pharmaceuticals.
Don't be an immigrant. Don't be a German, just off the boat.
Don't be Romanian. Don't be Japanese.
Don't live where the sun doesn't shine.
Don't be an adolescent homosexual: One in three will attempt.
Don't be a nonagenarian Los Angelean.
Don't be an alcoholic. It's suicide on the installment plan, anyway.
Don't be a schizophrenic. Disobey those voices in your head.
Don't be depressed. Lighten up.
Don't be Jennifer Rockwell.
And don't be a man. Don't be a man, whatever you do. Tony Silvera was, of course, talking through his ass when he said that suicide was a "babe thing." To the contrary, suicide is a dude thing. Attempting is a woman thing: Theyre more than twice as likely to do that. Completing is a man thing: They're more than twice as likely to do that. There's only one day in the year when its safer to be male. Mother's Day.
Mother's Day is the day for felo de se. How come? I wonder. Is it the all-you-can-eat brunch at the Quality Inn? No. The suicides are the women who skipped the lunch. They're the women who skipped the kids.
Don't be Jennifer Rockwell.
The question is: But why not?
Table of Contents"In my time, I have come in on the aftermath of maybe a thousand suspicious deaths, most of which turned out to be suicides or accidentals or plain unattendeds. So I've seen them all: Jumpers, stumpers, dumpers, drunkers, bleeders, floaters, poppers, bursters. But of all the bodies I have ever seen, none has stayed with me, in the gut, like the body of Jennifer Rockwell."
"I say all this because I am part of the story I am going to tell, and I feel the need to give some idea of where I'm coming from."
What People are Saying About This
"A dazzling smart-bomb of a novel that whistles into the police-procedural structure only to blow it to bits.... [Amis] proves he can do autopsies as clinically as Patricia Cornwell and female detectives as convincingly as Lynda La Plante."
Wall Street Journal
"A virtuoso performance.... Amis has created a quicksilver narrative that grabs the reader and refuse to let go."
New York Times
On Friday, January 23rd, barnesandnoble.com welcomed Martin Amis to discuss NIGHT TRAIN.
Moderator: Welcome online tonight, Mr. Amis. Do you have any opening comments for your fans?
Martin Amis: It is nice to make contact in this way. I have done many interviews on the Web, and I like meeting my readers -- even if it is electronically.
Teddy from Roosevelt Island, NY: Hello, Mr. Amis, I have been a fan for many years now. I am curious to find out your opinion of book reviewers. Do you read your reviews? Also, it appears to me that your critics are either in love with your work or hate it. Do book reviews carry any weight in your book?
Martin Amis: Well, book reviewing is a special case. When you review a movie you don't make a movie about it, but when you review a novel you write prose about it. There is a kind of rivalry. Book reviewing is a necessary thing: It is not necessary to novelists, but it is necessary to society. I am not influenced by reviews. One can always write a damaging review.
Nicolas Miller from Boulder, Colorado: Martin, I am curious to find out your intention in making NIGHT TRAIN's setting in "Anytown, U.S.A." I truly enjoyed NIGHT TRAIN, but my criticism is that the book overgeneralized the American police department. In my experiences with various police forces, there is a huge difference between, let's say, the LAPD and the police department in Mobile, Alabama. Thanks, I am a big fan....
Martin Amis: Well, I don't want to make it too specific, or too local, or too locked into a certain time. I read a lot of books about police precdure, but I wanted a kind of dreamlike vagueness and didn't want it tied to any one city. You always try to universalize and not particularize.
Paul from Morris Plains, NJ: I am curious to get your opinion of Will Self. Are you a fan of his writing? What are your thoughts on the whole John Major controversy?
Martin Amis: Well, Will is a good friend of mine, and I have followed him very closely since his first book. I encouraged him early on to concentrate on his writing and to give up on his day job. When he got busted on the jet, this was unfortunate for Will, but at least he was doing things on the grand scale. He reached for the sky. It is not like he got caught with half a joint...
Martin Amis: My mother used to live in Ann Arbor, and I have a special fondness for the place.
Tonya from Seattle, WA: For years your writing has been criticized for its depiction of the female character. Was this a thought that crossed your mind in creating your lead in NIGHT TRAIN?
Martin Amis: No. That would come under the heading of answering the critics, which is not something that this writer does. To people who criticize women in my writing, look at my portrayal of men.
Tina from Studio City, CA: Will you be reading in the L.A. area in the near future?
Martin Amis: I am reading in San Francisco, but not in L.A. I will be in San Francisco at Kepler's Books at 7:30 on the 26th of January, and I am reading at Black Oak Books in Berkeley the following night.
Suzanne from Los Altos, California: I enjoyed all your books, but MONEY and THE INFORMATION are my favorites. I think a filmed version of MONEY would work with a director like Robert Altman (who directed THE PLAYER, another dark comedy about the movie business). Assembling an imaginary cast for MONEY has always been fun for me. Has anybody purchased the movie rights, and if so, who was it?
Martin Amis: There have been many options taken out for MONEY. But the furthest we ever got was with the actor Gary Oldman, who would have made an unsurpassable job.
Aimee from Mobile, AL: How difficult was it to get the language in writing this book? There's a distinction between words Brits use and words Americans use, and you seemed to get it down in NIGHT TRAIN. Was it hard to switch into that voice?
Martin Amis: No, it now comes quite naturally to me to write in an American voice. I did it in LONDON FIELDS. It seems almost like a second larynx for me now.
Chuck from Leadville, CO: Your writing seems to be progressing from realism in the RACHEL PAPERS to metafiction in LONDON FIELDS to a loosely realistic allegory in NIGHT TRAIN. Do you believe your fiction will become less realistic in the future?
Martin Amis: Good question.... Well, one can only look as far ahead as the next novel, and the one staring in my mind at the moment is borderly realistic but will also play with a central uncertainty that exists, inspired by recent discoveries in science. My next book is a collection of short stories. My short stories are a lot more fantastical than my novels; I don't know why that is.
Choppy from Seattle: With the name Colonel Tom, were you hoping to evoke the image of Tom Parker, Elvis's manager? I mean, how American can you get but to infer Elvis in NIGHT TRAIN?
Martin Amis: No, I wasn't making a reference to Elvis, although come to think of it the residence of the name does derive from the old hustler. Colonel Tom was always a villain to me because he never allowed Elvis to come to England.
David from Statesboro, GA: Is the subject matter of your novel DEAD BABIES a petulant effort to distance yourself from the stolid subject matter of your father's writing?
Martin Amis: On some deep unconscious level, conceivably, but one doesn't make decisions about what to write about. That all seems to derive on the instinctual level.
Marti from Oxford, MS: LONDON FIELDS has been hailed as your best literary effort; do you think this is your best work? If not, which is and why? And please don't say the latest book, like every other author says....
Martin Amis: Well, your books are like your children -- you try not to have favorites and you treat the runts as well as the others. I do sometimes think that LONDON FIELDS is the most unslagging of my novels. On the other hand, I think TIME'S ARROW is the most completely achieved. These days it is THE INFORMATI0N that interests me most. So one's opinion changes over time and will proabably never be absolutely settled.
Debbie from Heartland USA, Ohio: What type of research did you do for NIGHT TRAIN? Did you hang out with any female police officers?
Martin Amis: No, I read some nonfiction works by people who had hung out with such types. I was indebted to David Simon's book HOMICIDE. And I read a lot of noir thrillers, but research limits you to what you actually experience. And it is better in the end to allow the imagination full play. If you make it up, it has your stamp on it and is more likely to last.
Aaron from Bennington, VT: Greetings, Mr. Amis. I hear you have a tempestuous relationship with the media, especially in England. I don't mean to seem trite, but I'd like to know your feelings about Princess Di's death and the media's involvement, and shed some light on where you think the society has gone in terms of its hunger for gossip. Thank you.
Martin Amis: The response to Princess Di's death seems to me like a millennial phenomenon. As in the past, millennial hysteria takes the form of mass emotion, self-flagellation, and drastic overevaluation. It is also very close to violent. And I found the whole carnival disconcerting.
Hunter from Hattiesburg, MS: NIGHT TRAIN is one of the few examples of your novels without a writer figure hanging around in the fringes somewhere, if not actually providing the narration. I'm thinking of characters like Samson Young, Charles Highway, Martin Amis. Why did you decide to leave a writer out of this one?
Martin Amis: For generic reasons. I just didn't want the extra layer on this particular story. There seemed to be no room for such a figure, and I never considered squeezing one in.
Jack from Michigan: Do American readers receive your novels in ways different from UK readers? Are our questions perhaps more ingenuous?
Martin Amis: Perhaps they are. They are certainly less encumbered by a knee-jerk hostility that I encounter in England, where I have been accused of anti-Semitism and misogyny. American readers seem to get me. I can't understand why this is so, but it is.
Greg from Sylvania, GA: I've read that it is more important to be part of the literary Oxford clique in England than it is to have a fresh new voice when trying to publish a first novel; do you think this is true?
Martin Amis: No longer. English fiction has been democratized and reinvigorated by the Commonwealth writers -- Rushdie, Desai. The so-called Oxford Circle collapsed in exhaustion a generation ago.
Emmett from Dorset, VT: Which American crime novelists did you model this book after?
Martin Amis: The two who struck me as most vital and original were Elmore Leonard and James Ellroy.
Shelby from Newton, MA: I've heard that you model your characters after real people. Is this true? Did you base Mike [on] anybody?
Martin Amis: It is impossible to insert a real character into a real novel. The gravitational forces of the fiction will tug the character completely out of shape. On the other hand, you do have certain models in the back of your mind. But the transference onto the page has to be a fluid process.
Jack from Michigan: You are on a rather extensive American book tour. In the UK, do writers go on similar tours?
Martin Amis: Yes, we do, but the difference is that England only has one city, the capital. For us, Bristol is L.A., Dunningham is Chicago, Hull is Boston, and Portsmouth is Miami. As you see, they don't quite measure up.
Derek Martin from Montreal, Canada: Who do you pick to win the Australian Open? By the way, we here in Montreal consider Rudeski a traitor.
Martin Amis: It looks like Sampras. The drawer is opening up for him. And if the computers are to believed, he is almost twice as good as any other player alive. I commiserate with you about Greg, but we are also pleased to have him.
Moderator: Thank you for joining us tonight, Mr. Amis. I hope you'll join us again. What wise words would you like to close with?
Martin Amis: Just remember that reading is an art, and it is just as much under threat as writing. So please keep at it.