An irregular, irreverent, post-modern account of the surreal, the ordinary, and the bizarre happenings on and around the Felia lavender farm in Crete

Friday, January 18, 2008

2 reviews - one author

A couple of book reviews for you today people.

Jean-Patrick Manchette - Three to Kill

This was my first exposure to Manchette and what a very pleasant surprise. The number of literate writers who venture into genre writing is small. You could count them on the fingers of both hands: maybe one hand. Ballard is one, Poe another. Manchette is one too. Credited with single handedly rescuing French crime fiction from the police procedural he writes in a spare, vicious language about men capable of extreme violence. Hardly a word seems wasted and once or twice an excess or a mis-step may be the fault of the translator. This is very good, very consistent, writing. Manchette's man, a high end hi-fi salesman, reluctantly stops to help a motorist who has been involved in an accident, or so he thinks but the man beside the citroen DS has been shot by professionals. The man takes the victim to hospital and abandons him to his fate while he himself goes off on holiday but his life has changed irrevocably. The killers soon come after him - and after his family - but the man is lucky. In a move never properly explained but not explained only because the man does not understand it himself he decoys the killers away from his family and the hunted becomes the hunter. Ten months later he returns to the bosom of his family, his task accomplished. Fast and insightful prose fills the gap I have left you here. Manchette fills up that gap much better than I could. Manchette elevates the crime novel to literature once more, bringing to mind Dostoevsky and Camus. In this slim volume he gives us psychological insight and social commentary spun in a tidy web of well chosen words. I did wonder whether he had read the great Derek Raymond but who cares?

Jean-Patrick Manchette - The Prone Gunman

Derek Raymond first tempted me into writing crime - Manchette is likely to be the writer who brings me back to try it again. Understanding that this genre has attracted some of the greats - Dostoevsky and Camus and Hamsun among others - might make you wonder why and I think it has to do with the onset of the modernists and Freud. When narrative qua narrative has become the domain film and the obvious way ahead for literature is the life of the interior crime springs obvious and eternal as a possible mainspring of the modern and post modern novel.  

This time round Manchette gives us a professional hitman who is retiring as his central character - his hero if you will. Leaving this dangerous profession is by no means as simple as it would be from any more mainstream profession however. An untimely retirement would spoil things for his "station boss" and it soon becomes clear that the next job, the "one more thing", could be fatal for our extremely violent but unconflicted hero. Quite how Manchette makes a professional killer so sympathetic has to be experienced to be believed. But like him we do. We even empathise with him. No mean feat.

Once you are hooked on the hero the action picks up from a frantic pace to a hectic one and soon you are careening through a seemingly logical but eminently crazy helter skelter of calculated violence and mayhem. Every step makes sense. Ears end up on car floors. People end up dead. The logic and the reason are undeniable - Manchette has you in his grip. Sit back in the assassin's passenger seat - a Citroen DS again, take out your Opinel knife and pare your nails - it's a bumpy ride but one you will enjoy. There will be blood but there will also be analysis and commentary.

One to enjoy and possibly Manchette's finest.

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