You know: in a foolish, undiscriminating way, I've been happy these last few months. I don't know why. I just am. I love my friends; I love my pupils; I love what I read; I -- dammit -- love my thoughts. I love the taste of oranges.
Thornton Wilder in a letter to Gertrude Stein, Aug 14, 1936

Friday, May 20, 2011

BOOK REVIEW: THE PRONE GUNMAN by Jean-Patrick Manchette

The Prone Gunman (City Lights Noir)The Prone Gunman by Jean-Patrick Manchette
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Martin Terrier is a hit man ready to get out of the business. Yes, we have been here before. But Manchette's brief novel is a lean, mean piece of writing with a fascinating central character who has killer instincts but in so many ways just isn't very bright. The body count is high, and after each killing you know exactly where the brain matter has ended up -- on the wall, in an ear, etc. Manchette also never skips the detail that a bullet or a piece of fireplace equipment in the lung causes the victim to spit foamy blood.

Manchette, who was French, wrote his crime novels in the 1980's, and much is made in his bio of his participation in the events of 1968, his left-leaning politics, and closeness to Guy Debord. I didn't see much evidence of any of this while the action and killing moved rapidly from Paris to the west coast of France, but as the story was resolved you get an image of Terrier as the pawn in a game of power that he will not be able to defeat. (He is, after all, named after a small dog.)

Two other Manchette novels have made it into English translation. They are definitely on the to read list.

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