The master of the noir novels final, unfinished, work Ivory Pearl was supposed to be the start a new, expansive series using the espionage novel as a means to talk about the revolutions and uprisings of the post WWII years. Manchette died before he could finish it, but what he left us with is a very different novel than his earlier works. Yes we have the incredible prose — surgical in its clarity and the propulsive plot, but here the characters are more fleshed out, with more of an inner life, and Ivory Pearl, the protagonist feels like a real hero. Unlike the protagonists in his others novels (killers, generally, sometimes mentally ill) Pearl is… dare I say it? Likeable?
I was so into this novel it was a bit of a gut punch when I got close to one of the main confrontations just as it ended and the notes explaining where the editors thought Manchette would take the plot began.
As an unfinished work, this isn’t as perfect as Manchette’s other novels, but still well worth the time of any fan of the crime genre.
The Mad and the Bad
A woman with mental problems is sprung from a hospital to watch a child heir. A tortured assassin with a bad ulcer is hire to make a murder like look a kidnapping. Nobody gets what they’re expecting.
Welcome to another crime novel by the mad genius Jean-Patrick Manchette where the writing is clean and spare and the plot twists come at you fast. Most of Manchette’s novels are full of unlikable people, and this one is no different, though, perhaps there is a hero within this one, and perhaps she’s a disturbed young woman who just wants to do what’s right.
All Manchette’s novels are brilliant, but this one is among the best.
I think this is generally thought of as Manchette’s most fully realized work and the culmination of his deeply nihilistic noir novels. The Fatale is a young woman who, we soon discovers, kills lecherous men for revenge, and money. She is literally a serial killer, yet still we cheer for her, especially as she seems so close to ruining the lives of scores of awful bourgeoisie dilettantes in a small French town. Except, then, as always happens in a Manchette novel, things get even more chaotic and violent.
Like every Manchette novel this is a brilliant piece of economic writing, propulsive plot, and compelling (if hardly likeable) characters. That he does so much with so few words can feel like magic.
Three To Kill
You’re coming home late at night, you try to do the right thing, but you end up getting caught up in something you don’t even understand and then people start trying to kill you. That’s the plot of 3 to Kill, and of many other crime novels and thrillers, but Manchette, in his very Manchette way takes it in another direction where the chase and the near death provide the bourgeois businessman protagonist something he needs, some sense that life is real?
What if armed men trying to kill you is a gift?
Like all Manchette’s novels this one moves at a rapid pace, with action on top of action and little to no time for reflection. It’s a crackerjack of a novel and further testament to why Manchette is among the greatest crime writers to ever live.
The Prone Gunman
Poor kid from the wrong side of town falls in the rich, gorgeous, popular girl. Embarrassed by his humble origins and desperate to make her happy, he tells her he is leaving town to make his fortune and will be back in ten years for her. This being a novel by the great French Noir writer Jean-Patrick Manchette going off to make a fortune involves becoming an assassin for hire., of course, and when our gunman return to collect the girl of his dream, no surprise everything goes horribly wrong.
Like any Manchette novel, this is propulsive, action packed, and written in a style so stark it hurts. I absolutely love Manchette’s work, and this one may epitomize his oeuvre. Incessant action and violence and no hero to cheer for except the author himself as he implements plot twist after plot twist. Great stuff here if you have any interest in crime writing.
God I loved this little book.
In post 1968 Paris a bunch of anarchists of varying levels of commitment plot to take an American ambassador hostage. It doesn’t go well, for anyone. The violence is nearly nonstop and none of the characters is particularly likeable. Still I couldn’t put it down. This is peak noir writing set in a world of anarchists, Marxists and intelligence agencies. Basically, candy for someone with my interests.
Manchette is among the best noir crime writers the world has ever seen. After I finished this, I went out and bought all his other books that have been translated into English. His writing is extremely sparse and direct, what details are included are pitch perfect – the name of the novel a character is reading, the make of a jacket. The action is nonstop and propulsive. We learn the inner lives of the characters by their actions, not by ruminations. The grizzled revolutionary takes action, even when it is ill advised, the hopeless intellectual meanders and drinks, even when action is required. This book, like most of Manchette’s has no heroes, just broken, deeply flawed people flailing through a violent mess. I ate it up.
Don Winslow if not the best crime writer alive, definitely top five. His pacing is always full speed ahead, but without sacrificing character develop, or whip smart dialogue. His two books on the rise of Mexican drug cartels, The Power of the Dog and the Cartel are deeply researched and utterly compelling.
Here, he turns his attention to the NYPD and an imaginary unit of super cops that shares a lot of similarities with the notorious Street Crimes Unit. They’re touted around the city as a team of super cops out to get the baddest of the bad guys, but in reality they’re deeply corrupt and their leader is spiraling out of control.
An ode to New York City and a sympathetic portrait of the NYPD, with its blemishes and all, this book is catnip for a New Yorker like me. Dialogue is on point, story moves at a blazing speed, landmarks all check out. If you like crime novels, or New York City novels, or novels with a plot that flies, this is worth the read.
A thriller about a dead child and a battered woman that has a plot twist that’s almost too clever. The writing is excellent, and the pacing in the first two third of the book feels like a perfect mix of long periods of dread and sorrow punctuated by short bits of joy or violence. This isn’t a perfect book, the bad guy, when he arrives is almost too bad, and while the first plot twist is genuinely surprising and well done, future plots twists feel a bit more forced.
Still, if you can handle some of the rougher stuff here (domestic abuse, dead kid) then this is a real top notch thriller. I finished it in a day.
Recommended for the enthusiast.
A crime novel set in post-apocalyptic New York City featuring a hit man with a heart of gold as the hero.
New York has been hit with a dirty bomb, and most of the city has fled, or now lives their entire lives jacked into virtual reality. Except our hero, who lives in Jersey and kills people. Except when he teams up with a group of misfits to take on the powers that be and protect a young girl.
A mix of the clever and the trite, this book is by turns clever, and too loose with the corny jokes and crime novel clichés. Still, I enjoyed it for the dark confectionery ride it is. If you have a tolerance for a certain level of crime novel cliché, you’ll probably enjoy it too.
Recommended for the enthusiast.
Cat nip for the crime novel fan. Fast paced P.I. story set in Los Angeles with a compelling protagonist, I.Q. A genius, a high school dropout, black, socially insecure and from Long Beach. He’s an unusual hero in a genre more often populated by misanthropic ex-cop white dudes. You won’t be surprised to learn its already optioned for a movie.
The plot, focused on the possible attempts to murder a rap star moves, and resolves in a way that is, while a bit over the top, not as absurd as many crime novel crescendos.
But rarely is it the plot that makes a crime novel fun. More often, it’s the detective, or the killer. And here, both are fun. Our detective is wonderfully fascinating. His back story tragic, his intelligence, inspiring, his personality quirks, related-able. The killer is pleasantly psychopathic and, as is common in these books, a bit overdrawn. But this is a crime novel, and a thriller, its meant to be enjoyed at a breakneck pace for the clever asides, the telling anecdotes, the compelling action. I enjoyed the hell out of it. If well written crime novels are your thing, you will too.
Recommended for the enthusiast.