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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.
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on 26 May 2003
What people are failing to see about Ballard is that his novels remind or inform us that below the surface there can often be some heavy stuff shifting about and 'Cocaine Nights' explores this fully. Set in what seems at first to be a bland Spanish ex-pat resort, we follow Charles Prentice who arrives to clear his brother of a murder he quite clearly did not commit, yet has admitted to.
At first Prentice is disgusted by the amoral characters he comes across, who seem to be middle class facists with no sense of right or wrong, but gradually they suck him into their world and he becomes a clone of his brother.
The whole of the end of the 20th century is here: sex, guns, drugs, crime and neck braces. This is a cable TV, mobile phone, Rolex watch dream gone horribly wrong, which puts forward the original idea that we are becoming obsessed with leisure and sun loungers and are becomimg lethargic if not catatonic. Lethargic to such a degree that crime as a means of excitement is justified if it wakes people up and gets them talking to each other. It's beautiful, scary stuff.
I would also recommend 'High Rise' by the same author and his examination of a possible future within fortified leisure cities, 'Supe-Cannes'.
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on 19 November 2010
In J.G. Ballard's 1996 novel ,Cocaine Nights, Englishman Frank Prentice is in a Spanish jail charged with arson and murder. Despite the fact that he's almost certainly innocent of these crimes he has confessed to them.

The narrator of Cocaine Nights is Frank's brother Charles, a travel writer-'Crossing frontiers is my profession'.He turns up at the super exclusive resort of Estrella de Mar -a gated, high security, retirement home for the super rich - in order to find out what happened. Prentice immerses himself in Estrella de Mar and it doesn't take long for Charles' digging to reveal a world of drugs, pornography and petty crime and more.

Ballard's prose is stripped down and perfectly streamlined and this is a tense and scary book.
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on 26 September 2009
Set in a Spanish ex-pat community this a tense thriller written with sarcastic wit that explores to quote from the text , `a social economy based on drug-dealing, theft, pornography and escort services from top to bottom a condominium of crime'.

Charles Prentice arrives in this strange community to discover just why his brother Frank, manager of the local sports club as confessed to a charge of murdering five people in a house fire! Everyone, apart from the local police, is so sure of his innocence that Charles decides to do some investigating of his own. His questioning causes all sorts of attacks upon him as he discovers a strong undercurrent suggesting that there are much more complex things of concern to the community than the death of five people!
At first Charles is sickened by the behaviour of the residents he meets but gradually he is drawn into their world. The person who has the most disturbing effect upon him is Bobby Crawford the club tennis coach who changes Charles Prentice just like he did his brother Frank before him. So much so that he accepts his logic without fully understanding that he is becoming involved in a bizarre social experiment.
A clever totally unexpected ending, though afterwards when I was still thinking about the novel I realised it was the obvious one, just that I had missed the hints!
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on 29 May 2008
This was another book I read upon finishing my English Literature degree, eight years ago, for light relief. The fact that it was modern and that it was set in sunny Spain appealed to me, but the book didn't live up to my expectations. I'd found Empire of the Sun stuffy when I had read it at school, but I had liked Crash very much, thinking it in fact a masterpiece (a pleasant surprise after that dreadful film). But Cocaine Nights seemed a bit tired, without flashes of Ballard brilliance. Solid stuff, all the same, but unless you are an avid Ballard fan, there is better stuff out there worth spending your time on.
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on 5 December 2013
Very much a crime thriller, it wasn't really what I expected. Although cocaine was mentioned as a past time I expected a book at lot more about parties and the drug culture, rather than a crime novel, trying to prove the innocence of one of the characters after a house fire. It is set in the ex-pat community of the Costa Del Sol during the 1990's and does give an idea of the hedonistic lifestyle and has a darker undertone that you do not really begin to see or understand until 2/3s of the way through the novel. It took a very long while to get going and only really reaches a basic conclusion with many aspects left either unanswered or open to interpretation. None of the characters are likeable, including the main character who is easily led, and led to believe many untruths, but this seems to be the part of being swept up in the lifestyle of doing little during the day except play tennis or golf, with many people turning to drugs to cope with the boredom of everyday life. Long winded with little excitement, with the occasional twist in the storyline.
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This is one of the later Ballard books that I did not read as a teenager. It is a continuation of the loose theme of Running Wild and Super-Cannes, but there is a distinct feeling of diminishing returns. The hero enters a seemingly idyllic Spanish holiday resort with a disturbing undertow of violence.

It is a long book for Ballard, and also uncharacteristically seems to have been commercially quite successful.

For me it is one of his weaker books, the setting, a less interesting combination of the El Dorado tv series as directed by David Lynch, just feels a bit tacky. The hero, a travel writer, is one of the dimmest of the Ballard heroes.

There are far better Ballard books to read, Super-Cannes is vastly better than this, but for completists Ballard is always worth a read.
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VINE VOICEon 3 July 2007
This is an interesting novel that melds one of Ballard's warning fables of the near-future with a whodunnit mystery, as a man tries to find out why his brother is pleading guilty to the charge of killing five people, when everyone is sure of his innocence. It's interesting and strange, but the novel doesn't quite succeed as well as it might though - Ballard's ideas on a future society of idle zombies and the shocking methods needed to 'wake them up' are disturbingly compelling, and the whodunnit mystery is at least initially intruiging, but the novel never quite gells into a satisfying whole. Still, an interestingly bizarre scenario, though Ballard would mine similar territory more succesfully in his next novel Super-Cannes.
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on 17 April 2012
Was really disappointed in this book. I never feel like writing reviews. But when I saw all the 5 star reviews on here I felt compelled. After reading Crash I was excited to get stuck into another Ballard novel. But this one read like a bad episode of Bergerac.

I struggle to understand how the same author could have written both works. The plot, and all the characters in it, are wooden. He uses similes on almost every page. At first I thought, that's quite clever. After a hundred of them they began to irritate me. By the end they made my eyes twitch and I felt dizzy when I stood up.
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on 24 May 2010
Ballard was fascinated by the idea of the dystopian society. Many of his novels exposed and examined the behaviour of groups of people, or even entire communities, whose lives, behaviours and morals are at odds with those of everyone else. Cocaine Nights exemplifies this fascination perfectly. A world-weary writer travels to Southern Spain to assist his brother who has been accused of murder and finds himself immersed in a creepy world of drugs, sex and crime. Gradually he puts the pieces of the puzzle together and discovers that it is only the existence of these vices in their lives that makes the ex-pats of the Spanish Costas feel alive and engaged with the world. With drugs, sex and crime they are active and alert members of society, without them they dull and soporific and condemned to endless therapy. It is an interesting concept and one which Ballard explores intelligently. The first hundred pages or so kept me interested, the characters are introduced, the scene is set and gradually Ballard develops his themes. After that, however, things begin to slow. Once I got the broad point I found it difficult to remain very interested. In my opinion the novel could easily have been completed in about half the pages without losing anything. Two thirds of the way through I fully understood the world Ballard wanted to create and could guess what would happen. Had he finished there I would have been more than happy, as it was I found myself quite bored towards the end and wishing he would get on with it.. Possibly an example of a powerful established author flexing his muscles. A good editor would have slashed this in half and thereby made it twice the novel it is.
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