Friday, March 07, 2008

Three to Kill: Jean-Patrick Manchette

I begin reading Three to Kill in a pub. The initial few pages almost make me forget my pint of Guinness Extra Cold. The tight and brief first chapter introduces the main character, and a potentially interesting one, Georges Gerfaut, though the “fact that Georges has killed at least two men in the course of the last one year is not germane.” The tight but not-so-brief second chapter ushers in Alonso Emerich y Emerich, who “had also killed people, a good many more than Georges Gerfaut.”

The tightness and the narrative style remind you of Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s Chronicle of a Death Foretold. The prose is sparse, the focus is on an impending act, the time shifts are subtle and almost impalpable, there is a sense of inevitability about events that are about to take place. Simply put, you sense you are on to something very different indeed.

The plot is deceptively straightforward. Georges Gerfaut stops to help an injured motorist on the road, and three days later . . . hold on, let Georges himself summarise it.

“Until last summer I was a middle manager in a company in Paris. I went on vacation, and two men tried to kill me, twice, for reasons unknown to me. Two complete strangers. At which point I left my wife and children and, instead of informing the police, I fled. I found myself in a freight car crossing the Alps. A drifter knocked me down with a hammer and threw me off the train. I injured my foot, which is why I limp now.”

The narrative style is where Three to Kill triumphs. It particularly reaches its peak when Alphonsine, with whom Georges has a brief dalliance, is shot and killed. It is not a very significant incident in the plot really (it’s not insignificant either, just in case you wonder whether the narrative rambles, it certainly does not), but its suddenness and directness are chilling.

The different slices of life the book deals with – that of a travelling salesman, that of a rich and retired officer from a banana republic, that of a recluse in the forests deep in the Alps – are as different as they are enchanting.

There are times you gamble on authors you’ve never heard of and hit the jackpot. Jean-Patrick Manchette is one of those for me. If Three to Kill is anything to go by, he is an author whose books I’d want to read more of.


kimbofo said...

Sounds excellent. Thanks for the review. I love tightly written crime thrillers with a menacing edge.

De Scribe said...

You're welcome, Kimbofo. I like tight crime thrillers too, but I find the detailed police procedurals just as riveting.