Monday, August 24, 2015

Review: "The Mad and the Bad" by Jean-Patrick Manchette

The Mad and the Bad, the novel by the late French crime writer Jean-Patrick Manchette, is an exercise in controlled, forward-moving chaos. Its slim 160 page length is filled with action, violence, menace, but not so much heart or feeling. It’s very creative though, and subversive in a number of strange and delightful ways. Reading this book, I couldn’t help but think of Norwegian writer Jo Nesbo, and see some of Manchette’s influence in him, especially in his stand alone novel Headhunters (I can’t speak for any of the novels in the Harry hole series, since I have not read any of them), which, like this novel, lacks a beating heart but somehow makes up for most of it by being propulsive and fiercely original, with events happening at random, much like they would in real life, and presenting characters that are quite one-dimensional, but are put in situations the genre that are joyful and out of left field. The synopsis, which is brilliantly and hilariously explained on the back cover of the NYRB edition, is simple as simple can get. Hartog, a failed businessman and scuzzy human being, just inherited a fortune when his brother and his wife die in a plane crash. That’s the good news. The bad news is that he is stuck with their useless and exhausting son Peter. To remedy this, he hires a woman named Julie, fresh out of a mental hospital to watch over Peter. He also hires an assassin named Thompson, sick with an ulcer, to kill them both and collect. What I liked about this book was, as I said, its originality, as it subverts many notions of books like this to great effect. The woman is flawed to the point of near uselessness, the boy is in no way sympathetic, and the killer is just trying to get a job done so he can retire. The ending is realistic, too, forgoing the usual tropes for something a bit more grounded. But these characters are merely archetypes, and it is hard to really, really care for them in a sea of rising action and bloody insanity. But still, this is a fun little book worth checking out if you want a different kind of crime caper.  
Rating: 4/5

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