From Publishers Weekly
Backed by a tremendous European reputation, one of the stars of Gallimard's [Serie Noir] comes to America with a lean thriller, in a brilliant new translation. Manchette (1942-1995) did translations himself, as well as leftist political writing, potboilers and TV scripts, but his 10 crime novels composed between 1971 and 1982 are considered his masterworks. This 1976 title features the ordinary businessman Georges Gerfaut, drawn by chance into the net cast by two hit men, Carlo and Bastien, working on assignment for the mysterious "Mr. Taylor." For no reason Gerfaut can comprehend, the pair are suddenly trying to kill him, and he must flee for his life. The theme of paranoid man-on-the-run is a staple of B-thrillers, but the author shows such superb lan in handling the material that it almost seems as if he's the first to craft it, using cinematic narrative techniques that switch the perspective backward and forward in time. Manchette makes pop culture references throughout, noting Gerfaut "did have a look of Robert Redford. But, like a lot of men, he didn't much care for Robert Redford." Describing the huge cache of guns Carlo and Bastien lug about in their murderous trade, he asks, "Should such an arsenal be considered impressive or simply grotesque?" The occasional touches of dark humor recall Charles Willeford, the passages of sinewy prose the spare musculature of Richard Stark's early Parker novels. Manchette is a must for the reading lists of all noir fans. (Mar.)Forecast: This edition, supported by a French government grant, is most likely to reach an audience that shares the author's left-wing politics. Manchette deserves a higher profile among noir fans (in the Black Lizard series, for example), but his being a dead non-Anglophone foreigner makes the wider dissemination of his work an uphill climb.
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For English-language readers, it seemed that, until recently, the French crime novel was stuck in a Maigret malaise. Why were there no Ian Rankins or John Harveys writing edgy, noir fiction set in France (where the term was born, after all)? Lately, with the appearance in the U.S. of Daniel Pennac's Malaussene novels, we learned that the French mystery wasn't quite as stodgy as we thought. Now, thanks to City Lights Books, the truth dawns: Jean-Patrick Manchette (1942-95), the author of 10 romans noir
, rescued an entire generation of French crime novelists from the grip of Maigret way back in the 1970s, but he was never translated. In this first of two Manchette novels to appear this spring under the City Lights Noir imprint, the author breathes new life into a popular noir formula: the average man thrown into a nightmare entirely by chance. It all starts when Georges Gerfaut, a middle manager in a Paris company, witnesses a murder and discovers that he is next on the hit list. Suddenly Gerfaut is on the run, his circumscribed white-collar life instantly superseded by a world without rules. Manchette's left-wing politics drive the story in occasionally intrusive ways, but, ironically, what makes the tale come alive is the coldly impersonal narrative style, evoking both Camus and Jean-Paul Melville's exquisitely icy film Le Samurai
. Many critics consider Manchette's masterpiece to be The Prone Gunman
; City Lights will release it in June. Noir fans will be waiting. Bill OttCopyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved