Wednesday, September 02, 2009

West Coast Blues: A classic crime novel goes graphic

Jean-Patrick Manchette (1942-1995) was one of the great crime writers, and his novel Le petit bleu de la côte ouest (translated previously as Three to Kill) may be the essential European crime novel of the last forty years.

Now the book has made its way into graphic-novel form, as West Coast Blues, adapted and illustrated by Jacques Tardi and published by Fantagraphic Books. The story follows with hallucinogenic clarity a young businessman named Georges Gerfaut (anglicized here as "George") through an accidental encounter that leads to: beating, killing, hit men, privation, wandering then salvation in the woods, sex, revenge, voluntary uprooting from his family, clashes with a Latin American torturer on the run — and then back to the same ring road in Paris where he began, wondering, perhaps, whether it was all real and whether it will happen again. There is no catharsis, no happy ending. There is no sad ending, either. The story simply runs out.

The book is slyly funny without being jokey; thrilling without ever seeming manipulative; cool, distant and ironic in its narrative voice; immediate in its depiction of violence.

What do Tardi's illustrations add? Mostly a crowded sense of daily life, an ironic, sense-sharpening departure from the dark, shadowy atmospherics that sometimes nudge noir toward mere style. Tardi's scenes of Gerfaut and his family at a holiday resort are notable here, full of packed beaches, spilled ice cream, traffic jams, and an attempt on George's life.

(The new title presumably refers to Gerfaut's perferred music, the cool West Coast jazz that Gerfaut listens to as he unwinds and the tension builds.

Here's what I wrote about Manchette last year in a post called
"Who is the most influential crime writer?" Here's a roundup of the year's mystery and crime comics from Brian Lindenmuth. And here's what one current crime writer, a admirer of Manchette's who has paid tribute to him in his own work, has to say.)

© Peter Rozovsky 2009

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Blogger Sucharita Sarkar said...

I am woefully ignorant of these matters, but this book seems just the kind of obsessive stuff that I can't put down.

The only crime-graphic novels I have read are of those by Agatha Christie and there, i felt, the graphic form misses out on the subtle social commentary and gender politics that Christie's books had, and they simplify the text to the level of the plot only. But the old-fashioned picturisation goes well with the Golden Age setting of the books.

September 03, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

That's an interesting comment because many people think of Christie in precisely those plot-only terms. I have read far more about Christie than I have of her, and I have thereby learned about the social politics of her writing even where those politics may not be entirely admirable. Colin Watson has much to say about Christie's canny consideration of social attitudes in his social history of English crime fiction, Snobbery WIth Violence.

This graphic novel is explicit in its political content, as is Manchette's novel. And the illustration suits and adds to the next. A perceptive blurb notes that Jacques Tardi departed from the expected dark, noir atmospherics. It may be significant that the story both opens and closes at night, but that most of the action in between happens in the daytime. I don't remember if the novel is explicit on this point, but the graphic novel certainly is.

September 03, 2009  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Peter,
I don't know if you remember me, we chatted a bit during Leighton Gages' blog radio spot during the PPWEBCON.

I have a thread on amazon's mystery community discussion, Nordic/British/Irish/Euro.

I'd love it if you would stop by, since our focus is mostly on translated mysteries people would be very interested in your blog articles.

One of our posters told us you responded to Laura Miller's article about Scandi mysteries, and I can't find it. :(

In the meantime I'm going post your blog address on the thread.

I hope we see you soon.


January 19, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Odd to see your reply on a thread several months old, but welcome nonetheless, and thanks for the comment.

I'll look for your thread. Odd you should mention Laura Miller's article. Perhaps she's written more than one about Scandinavian mysteries, because I read her recent piece but have not replied to it.

January 20, 2010  

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