Friday, January 30, 2015

The Mad and the Bad, Jean-Patrick Manchette

The Mad and the Bad is a noir fable, quite different from the previously translated Jean-Patrick Manchette books (which are mostly tight, terse tales of professional killers and the like). The Mad and the Bad has a young woman/orphan rescued from an asylum to become a governess, a monster living in a castle in the mountains, an evil stepfather (he has adopted the son of his wealthy brother after the brother and his wife are killed in an accident)--but also a hit man (who is himself dying) and his vicious (but not totally dependable) cohorts.

The book is as fast and entertaining as Manchette's other stories, while also being frequently funny, in a very dark way. If I'd read it without the author's name being disclosed, I'd have guessed it to be by another French writer, the very darkly funny crime novelist Pascal Garnier. Manchette and Garnier, both deceased, are a matched set of very skillful and entertaining writers along a spectrum from comic to bleak, and share the same approach to writing crime fiction, stripped down style, direct storytelling, and not taking up more space than necessary. The influence of Simenon, perhaps?

In any case, The Mad and the Bad, after the young girl/mental patient is installed as the orphan/nephew's governess, Manchette lets the daily routine of her new life play out for a short time before suddently shifting into a kidnapping plot (which isn't what it seems), an escape, several deaths, and a race across France with the hit-man in hot pursuit. There's no one writing them like this, any more (or if you know of another writer in this vein, please let me know!).

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