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`But to die in bed with his employer's wife showed an excessive sense of duty'
on 4 August 2009
Yes, there is plenty of humour in J G Ballard's caustic dig at British ex-pat life on the Costa Del Sol but despite the claims of `dazzling originality' and `exhilarating imagination' it is instead a good but fairly conventional detective novel, very much in the English vein. Charles Prentice arrives in Estrella Del Mar, an outwardly genteel community of retired British professionals, where his brother Frank has confessed to starting a horrific fire which kills the Hollinger family. Frank was the manager of Club Nautico, the nerve pulse of the community, and nobody believes his confession, not even the police. As the Spanish police are ineffectual and disinterested Charles plunges into some clumsy amateur sleuthing to try and save his brother. However, he discovers that behind the façade of respectability the town is a hotbed of decadence and crime peopled by amoral and feckless egoists.
There is a popular tradition in English writing that enjoys depicting tranquil and genteel rural communities as a veneer for all manner of nefarious and murderous activities. An apposite comparison to Cocaine Nights would be ITV's Midsummer Murders series where deranged psychotics hell-bent on revenge lurk behind twitching net curtains or in watercolour classes. In Estrella Del Mar the principal force for good or for evil - depending on your point of view - is the implausible, floppy-haired, tennis playing Bobby Crawford who doubles as a burglar, high-powered drug dealer and pornographer. Charles is fascinated by the man and his motives and gradually becomes sucked into the dark underbelly of Estrella Del Mar and nearby Residencia Costasol forgetting about his brother languishing in jail.
Cocaine Nights is a pretty fast moving book, crisply written and not too deep, but the author does investigate the link between crime and creativity, demonstrates the danger of unbridled hedonism, and cleverly satirises the brain-dead, security-obsessed gated communities that were springing up in the 1990s.