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?
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
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Our book club¿s novel for February was Night Train, by Martin Amis, which we¿d selected from a series of proposed books that our members described as ¿quirky¿ or ¿out of the ordinary.¿ We picked Night Train not only because of the author¿s reputation but also because of its brevity (175 pages). Our discussion started with a fairly lengthy of what exactly genre fiction is. Night Train has all the elements of a traditional hard-boiled mystery: a hard-edged, bitter, cynical female cop who has been done dirt by the world, and who is barely holding on to her few remaining relationships. It also has what one would consider a traditional plot¿the narrator¿s (¿Mike¿ Hoolihan) mentor¿s daughter has committed suicide, but no one can accept this¿and Mike is dispatched to find out what really happened. And, finally, the book is told in what could be considered the common sort of criminal/underworld/police patois that we have seen in noir fiction for decades (and which led some of us to wonder if people ever really talk(ed) like this, or if this is a hyperstylized made-up language that is ¿real¿ only in the world of fiction). So why, then, does the book feel so surreal, and so non-standard? The book takes place in an unnamed American city with a reputation for being tough, but the language seems more British than American, beginning with the opening line ¿I am a police.¿ Such an opening line almost sets up the expectation that you¿re going to be in a world you don¿t recognize or know much about¿and that does indeed turn out to be the case. While the investigation does proceed on a more-or-less understandable, the book¿s final ¿reveal¿ is disturbing and completely unexpected (I can¿t say more without spoilers, but anyone who has read this book will know what I mean). And it was in the ending that we had our most intense discussion, with the members pretty evenly divided. Some felt that reading the book had been an off-kilter experience for them throughout, as if they were caught in a strange alternate reality somewhere between fiction and real life. Others felt that the book and the ending were all the more satisfying because they are more ¿realistic¿ in terms of what life is really like¿inconsistent characters, a series of events more than a ¿plotline¿ created and maintained by an author/narrator, and a conclusion that doesn¿t fit anyone¿s expectations of how a crime novel should end. All in all, while we were divided on how much we ¿liked¿ the book, we all agreed that it was a singularly worthy read¿a book, unlike so many mysteries, that can sustain long bouts of discussion. What I personally found so interesting about the discussion was that I was able to see all points of view. I understood why some people felt so passionately about the book¿s ground-breaking aspects, and I also understood why some people felt so frustrated (even robbed) by it. This is certainly an important book, and I think it¿s worth a read if you can handle intense discussions of suicide, alcoholism, and many other unpleasant things about life.
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 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.
Worst M. Amis book ... main character just not believable.
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 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.
Nihilism tastes bad to me, and love's topping doesn't make it any sweeter.SPOILER ALERT!!!!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 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.
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, 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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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)
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 period, for chrissake, finally.
Subject matter is a little disturbing but it is well written and very thought provoking.