cover image THREE TO KILL


Jean-Patrick Manchette, , trans. from the French by Donald Nicholson-Smith. . City Lights, $11.95 (134pp) ISBN 978-0-87286-395-8

Backed by a tremendous European reputation, one of the stars of Gallimard's Série Noire comes to America with a lean thriller, in a brilliant new translation. Manchette (1942–1995) did translations himself, as well as leftist political writing, potboilers and TV scripts, but his 10 crime novels composed between 1971 and 1982 are considered his masterworks. This 1976 title features the ordinary businessman Georges Gerfaut, drawn by chance into the net cast by two hit men, Carlo and Bastien, working on assignment for the mysterious "Mr. Taylor." For no reason Gerfaut can comprehend, the pair are suddenly trying to kill him, and he must flee for his life. The theme of paranoid man-on-the-run is a staple of B-thrillers, but the author shows such superb élan in handling the material that it almost seems as if he's the first to craft it, using cinematic narrative techniques that switch the perspective backward and forward in time. Manchette makes pop culture references throughout, noting Gerfaut "did have a look of Robert Redford. But, like a lot of men, he didn't much care for Robert Redford." Describing the huge cache of guns Carlo and Bastien lug about in their murderous trade, he asks, "Should such an arsenal be considered impressive or simply grotesque?" The occasional touches of dark humor recall Charles Willeford, the passages of sinewy prose the spare musculature of Richard Stark's early Parker novels. Manchette is a must for the reading lists of all noir fans. (Mar.)

Forecast:This edition, supported by a French government grant, is most likely to reach an audience that shares the author's left-wing politics. Manchette deserves a higher profile among noir fans (in the Black Lizard series, for example), but his being a dead non-Anglophone foreigner makes the wider dissemination of his work an uphill climb.