Prone Gunman by
Jean Patrick Manchette
pbk out November 06
Twenty-five years after its publication in France, eleven years after the death
of its author, the last completed novel by Jean-Patrick Manchette at last
comes out in the UK. Does it stand up?
It certainly does. Whilst firmly of its time and place, (francs, a plethora of
Citroëns, radio shows that flit from jazz to Purcell, cultural references from
Marion Brown, Archie Shepp and Régis Debray to Verdi and Bryan Ferry),
this is timeless, questioning, quintessential noir.
The protagonist is professional hit man, Martin Ferrier, referred to as Christian
or, more often (by the third person narrator) as 'the man'. In a jolting opening
chapter, he dispatches, up close and impersonally (and in Worcester!), a
Marshal Dubovsky along with an accompanying woman. Back in Paris, Ferrier
abruptly severs his long-term relationship with girlfriend Alex, refuses one last
job from his employer, takes a vaguely threatening phone-call, then sets off
for the south of France on a personal quest of his own. It doesn't go quite as
The name of Jean-Patrick Manchette comes with an extraordinary amount of
baggage. Credited with revitalising noir fiction in France, he was first a
journalist, a translator of crime fiction (from Bloch to Westlake), later a
screenwriter for both film and television. Influenced by the situationist
movement of Guy Debord that played a key part in the events of May '68,
Manchette's ten crime novels, by all accounts, reflect the creeping disillusion
of France's post-68 generation. He died of cancer in 1995,
Unlike his first novel L'Affaire N'Gustro (1971), a fictionalised version of the
mystery surrounding the disappearance of Moroccan politician Ben Barka in
Paris in 1965 (and by a strange coincidence the subject of Serge Le Péron's
current movie I Saw Ben Barka Get Killed, possibly at an art-house near you),
Gunman has no basis in history. But as the violence escalates, and we
glimpse fragments of the wider world in which Terrier operates, the novel is
not only an object lesson in hard-boiled fiction, but an oblique commentary on
the realities of its time, not to mention our own.
Admirably translated by James Brook, Manchette's prose, whilst allowing for
odd flashes of dark humour, is cool, clinical and perfectly paced. The closing
chapters are as chilling as any you will find in crime fiction.
Serpent's Tail will publish another Manchette novel in February 2007. It is
Three to Kill from 1976. Don't miss that one either.
New Books by Jean Patrick Manchette at Amazon.co.uk