Rampant drug binges and public murders are on the cards in this 90s amateur detective novel. And with the usual Ballardian pose, there’s more than meets the eye with these quirky Marbella residents.
Charles arrives in Marbella following his brother’s trial, who’s pleaded guilty to burning down a house containing five people – killing them all in the process. Charles isn’t convinced by his brother’s plea and sets out to play amateur detective in the case.
Working with his brother’s former staff, at Club Nautico, and alongside the local police chief, Charles finds himself drawn into a deep-web of conspiracy, corruption, and general chaos.
Outside the (White) Lines
In usual Ballard style, Cocaine Nights quickly descends into the underground reaches of human behaviour; drug-trafficking, sex, violence, and of course, pornography. It wouldn’t be a proper Ballard story without the magical quartet.
The house that’s burnt down belonged to a prominent movie director, who moved to Estrella de Mar to retire with his actress wife. Yet when the ashes are inspected and the bodies identified, it’s clear that not everything is as it first appeared.
The case is thrown into further disarray when it’s revealed that two hundred people were outside the house at the time of the fire – celebrating the Queen’s birthday. Who was the guilty party? Why did none of them help? These are all questions Charles must solve to free his brother.
On top of this is Crawford, the local playboy and tennis star.
He frequently stalks Charles, leaving him sinister messages and apparent signs that he should leave Spain at the nearest exit, going as far as attacking him in the night.
But all of this just pushes Charles on as a man who can’t let anything go. That and the close physical relationship he’s built up with his brother’s lover.
There’s a dark cloud covering Marbella. Unlike the concrete underpasses of Crash, the roads here seem to lead to dead-ends. Nobody is willing to talk, and even fewer vacate their retirement homes for more than a couple of hours.
Ballard creates a strangely dystopian region, one that’s the epitome of the modern-day man working in his bubble, utterly oblivious to the world around him.
Counter to this is Crawford – the man who’ll grab you by the neck and squeeze you to unconsciousness. When you finally wake up, your energy and desire for life, having felt it slip away, will be restored. If he can do this to enough people, he might just develop a thriving community, but at what cost?
Cocaine Nights is an ever-twisting story that will have you shaking your head and gasping for breath in equal measure.
Whilst not all of the plot is entirely believable, it consists of Ballard’s usual points-of-reference, most notably the quirky characters and the over-rousing environments. If you’ve previously enjoyed any of J.G. Ballard’s previous books, you’ll already know what you’re getting into here.