Wednesday, May 04, 2011

Fatale by Manchette

I learned from the introductory material to Jean-Patrick Manchette's 1977 novel Fatale, newly published in English translation by NYRB Classics, that Manchette translated Donald Westlake, Margaret Millar, Ross Thomas, and Alan Moore's Watchmen into English.
I also learned that Jean Echenoz, who wrote an afterword to the novel, considers it perhaps the darkest of Manchette's works.  This surprised me, because I found comic touches of the kind I did not remember from Three to Kill and The Prone Gunman, the other two Manchette novels available in English. And those comic touches helped me understand why Duane Swierczynski likes Manchette so much. (Swierczynski is quoted on the back cover of Fatale, and he named a character — or part of one — after Manchette in his own novel The Blonde.)

The humor is always gleeful, even when politically pointed. (I continue to be surprised by humor, zest, and good old storytelling from European crime writers of the left. You'd think I'd by used to it by now, but what can I tell you? I've been in America too long.) To wit:
"She thumbed through the Paris papers but failed to find what she was looking for. She turned to the local publications. One of them championed a left-capitalist ideology; the other championed a left-capitalist ideology."
This brief roman noir tells the story of Aimée, a hitwoman who comes to a French town to sniff out the money and stir things up. Not especially cold or distant, she nonetheless finds just one kindred spirit, an old baron off his nut who scandalizes the town while nonetheless remaining part of it.

Manchette's protagonists don't end happily, and this one is no exception. But she does manage some acerbic humor along the way:
"I've been wasting time. I didn't know whom to kill. For a moment I thought of suggesting to Sinistrat's old lady that her wretch of a husband could be done in. Or proposing to Sinistrat and his little Julie that old Lenverguez be bumped off. But it was no good. These people are too dumb."
© Peter Rozovsky 2011

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12 Comments:

Anonymous kathy d. said...

I really enjoyed reading and thinking about the linked in discussion about Manchette and other post-WWII influential crime writers.

I don't know whom I'd select; this is an important question. Maybe, but not noir, I'd say Sjowall and Wahloo. They transformed much of Scandinavian mystery writing to bring in social issues, and yet doing well-written police procedurals with character development.

I have not read any books by Manchette. Although not a fan of noir (too hopeless, pessimistic for me), I do like the writing I see here, and of course, the political nuances.

So I will give his books a try. On that vein, I do have "Affairs of State," by Dominique Manotti, a partisan of his, although more recent and currently publishing.

And I still have Pierre Magnon to read, speaking of French mystery writers.

May 05, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I was thinking about Affairs of State today. I bought a copy at Crimefest in Bristol last year, but I gave it to a friend in London, thinking I already had a copy at home. But I'll be damned if I can find it. And it was Manchette who got me thinking about Manotti. No surprise there, given their nationality and their politics.

Manchette is bleak, all right, but the analytical quality of his writing is bracing. If nothing else, his books are short; they will not require a great commitment of time. And, of course, one can read his work and, as an American, be proud of the worldwide influence American crime writing has had.

May 05, 2011  
Anonymous kathy d. said...

Maybe you could reraise that question of who is the most influential crime fiction write since WW II? It stirred up some good discussion, and might again, with different answers than the prior post did.

I'll give Manchette a try after I read Manotti's, after Devil-Devil, after Solana, etc.

May 05, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

That's not a bad idea, especially since Hammett, Chandler, Simenon, Agatha Christie, and so on all began their careers before World War II, not to mention Arthur Conan Doyle and Poe. It's probably too early to tell which later crime writers, if any, will rival their influence.

My goal with that post was really to add Manchette to the list.

May 05, 2011  
Blogger lisa_emily said...

I just finished Fatale yesterday and I found it to be humorous and quick read. I enjoyed it, but I was also struck by it's rather contemporariness. Meaning- having a female protaganist who is not entirely bad, but not good either- and who also has some major a**-kicking skills.

I also like Machette's quote that the crime novel is "the great moral literature of our time."
In looking at Fatale as a moral story- I guess it's about the depravity of greed?

May 05, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Thanks for dropping in.

A passage immediately before the second one I quoted has Aimée saying she tells her clients that she knows a killer. "I don't tell them I'm a killer," she says. "I'm a woman, and they wouldn't take me seriously."

Perhaps Manchette's moral is that a system based on money can swallow up any and all, whether they're good or bad. The protagonist is also a victim. I'd call that the case in all three of his novels that I've read.

May 05, 2011  
OpenID salazarbooks.com said...

I've read The Prone Gunman and enjoyed it. Will have to buy his other two translated novels now.

I would highly recommend the two novels (which have been translated into English) by Didier Daeninckx - A Very Profitable War, and Murder In Memoriam.

I can also recommend The Pledge by Friedrich Durrenmatt - a Swiss German writer. There are some nice elements to that book.

For some easy reading - humorous Noir there are the novels of Leo Mallet - French writer inspired by Hammett and Chandler. Before the war he was a member of the Surrealists group - mainly writing poetry.

_This is my first post on your blog Peter but I've been following for a while through Google Reader and enjoy it a lot - thank-you

May 06, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Thanks for the kind words and the recommendations. I expect I might enjoy Didier Daeninckx, since I have read and liked Manchette and Dominique Manotti. I've long wanted to read Malet, both his novels and the graphic-novel adaptations by Jacques Tardi, but I've never found any in English translation. I can read non-fiction in French, but with fiction, I feel like I'm missing nuances, and that thought is so distracting that I have difficulty getting on with the reading. (If you like crime comics with an accent on the comic, try Leo Pulp.)

I have read The Pledge as well, though that book strikes me as more like Georges Simenon than like Manchette. If you like Durenmatt, you might also enjoy reading Friedrich Glauser.

May 06, 2011  
OpenID salazarbooks.com said...

I've added Friedrich Glauser to my Amazon wish list - I need to wait for a birthday now to start buying them.

I got the English translations of Leo Malet novels second hand off of Amazon. Only about 8 of them have been translated. Hopefully someone will buy something somewhere and do an asset check and see they still have the rights and translate the rest. I haven't read the Tardy comic versions - although they probably do suit that format better than most.

Seth

May 07, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Any recommendations on which of the Leo Malet titles to start with?

May 07, 2011  
OpenID salazarbooks.com said...

I did an amazon list so I could remember which ones I'd read:
http://www.amazon.co.uk/Leo-Malet-Nestor-Burma-books/lm/R1QCI8SKXGOWRI/ref=cm_lmt_srch_f_2_rsrsrs0

I started with 120 Rue de la Gare which was the first one written. They don't really reference each other and the first one starts as if you already know all about the characters etc - so you can start anywhere.

I tried to read them in order but it came down to availability at a reasonable price.

May 08, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Thanks. I've found various Nestor Burma titles availabe in English on ABE. I'm generally not bothered by sries crime stories that will have a detective remark about some case he worked on years ago (in a previous book) -- as long as the author works the reference into the book smoothly.

May 08, 2011  

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