Cocaine Nights by J.G. Ballard – Reviewed by Guy Portman
A house fire in the upmarket British expat enclave of Estrella de Mar on the Costa del Sol results in five deaths. Frank Prentice, the manager of the popular Club Nautico, pleads guilty and is charged with murder, but no one believes he committed the crime, not even the police. Frank’s brother Charles travels from the U.K. to investigate the crime and find the culprit.
Charles discovers that Bobby Crawford, Estrella de Mar’s amoral and charismatic head tennis coach, is the orchestrator of a society rampant with crime, drugs and adultery. Over time Charles becomes increasingly immersed in resort life and less concerned with his brother’s plight.
Cocaine Nights is a combination of crime thriller and dystopian fiction, in which the plot provides a context for a study of how crime proves to be a catalyst that transforms a stupefied population faced with unlimited leisure into a functioning, cohesive and vibrant community.
Rife with descriptive prose and replete with similes and satirical observations, Cocaine Nights explores how society might fragment in a dystopian near future, a recurring theme in much of Ballard’s writing, and one which the author tackles adeptly.
Although this reader found Cocaine Nights to be unabsorbing at times, the characters unrealistic and the events unconvincing, it is an eminently readable book with a memorable and unpredictable ending.