Picks and Pans Review: Night Train
You might say that Martin Amis is the Michael Jordan of prose. Who else has moves like these: "She had it all and she had it all, and then she had some more." Swish! "The sight of her instantly had you going along with the idea that the basis of attraction is genetic. Get Jennifer, and your genes would surge forth, in a limo." Ka-thunk!
But in this mystery novella written from the viewpoint of a brawny female cop in a decaying U.S. city, one too often wonders, Why would a Jordan want to play minor-league baseball? Night Train is first-rate detective fiction but second-rate Amis; its spare Dragnet style and careful but uninspiring characterizations are poor substitutes for the spectacularly twisted buffoons and crumbling-rococo prose of his half-dozen comic tours de force (Success, Money, London Fields). Amis never quite pulls off writing in a woman's voice (a stunt he tried previously in 1981's similar Other People, his least effective previous novel), and his Oxford background keeps peeking through: Cops don't generally muse in Latin, use words like "nonagenarian," or express bewilderment at an episode of a TV game show. Is Amis's previous work an unfair standard of measurement? Maybe, but he set it, and like Jordan, he competes at a level whose population is one. (Harmony, $20)