The Prone Gunman by Jean-Patrick Manchette
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
”’Basically,’ said Maubert, ‘anyone could do your job. I bet they pay you well, but anyone could do it. You’re paid for running the risk. For the responsibility. I mean, if you’re nabbed one day, you’re nabbed as a killer--that’s what I mean when I say risk. They don’t pay you for your skills.’”
Martin Terrier is a hired killer who decides it is time to retire. He had, before venturing out in his chosen profession, elicited a promise from his childhood sweetheart, Anne, to wait for him. He will return in ten years.
Now unless you are going off to fight the Trojan Wars and your sweetheart is Penelope, the chances of any person waiting for anyone to reappear after ten years is somewhere south of zero. If you have seen the movie Before Sunrise, Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy have trouble hooking back up after a year apart. Even if Anne is a woman of immense fortitude and stoically waited for ten years,...Martin is a bit late.
Things in his life do not go as planned.
Killing for hire doesn’t come with a retirement plan. In fact, “The Company” he works for is reluctant to let him go. He is, after all, a ticking time bomb of knowledge. He has the type of information knocking around in his brain that a government would pay large sums for or they may just toss him in a dank hole in some undisclosed location in some third world country willing to look the other way as they explore his ability to be reticent.
First problem is that The Company is not going to just let him walk off into the sunset. The second problem is that Anne is married. She will not go down in literary history as the woman who waited. She didn’t wait years, nor months, barely a matter of weeks. Out of sight, out of mind, and I’m not sure that Martin deserved any more consideration than what she gave him.
The reunion is...interesting.
”Terrier gave her an ironic smile and poured her a stiff shot of J&B. Anne sighed and sat down on the bed. She took a sip. Terrier sat down next to her, took her by the head, and kissed her. She let him do it. Her mouth was passive, studious, plump, and tasted like scotch.
‘Stop,’ she whispered after Terrier released her.
She took off almost all her clothes.
‘The panties, too,’ said Terrier.”
Jean-Patrick Manchette is a student of hardboiled noir, and as you can see from this example, he must have had grit in his teeth at the end of each day of writing. I love the description of her mouth. When I look at synonyms of the word studious, which seems like an odd descriptive term to put with passive, there are several interesting interpretations of what he could mean with the use of that word.
I also find it interesting that Martin’s favorite drink is J&B Scotch, which also happens to be the drink of choice of Patrick Bateman in American Psycho. Is there some correlation between drinking J&B and having murderous impulses? I’ve never drank J&B, but I may have to snag a bottle the next time my wife is safely out of town for the weekend and see if I start to develop fiendish ideas in a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde sort of way.
If you love the hardboiled genre, you can not ignore Manchette. He pares down all the excess baggage in every sentence he writes. His books are short, clean, and laced with the right amount of cynicism. He is the French response to Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett. So grab a bottle of J&B (well, you might wait until we see how my experiment goes first. :-)), and look through the crosshairs with Martin Terrier for a few hours.
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