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Jean-Patrick Manchette, translated from the French by Donald Nicholson-Smith

Jean-Patrick Manchette (1942–1995) was a genre-redefining French crime novelist, screenwriter, critic, and translator. Born in Marseille to a family of relatively modest means, Manchette grew up in a southwestern suburb of Paris, where he wrote from an early age. While a student of English literature at the Sorbonne, he contributed articles to the newspaper La Voie communiste and became active in the national students’ union. In 1961 he married, and with his wife Mélissa began translating American crime fiction—he would go on to translate the works of such writers as Donald Westlake, Ross Thomas, and Margaret Millar, often for Gallimard’s Série noire. Throughout the 1960s Manchette supported himself with various jobs writing television scripts, screenplays, young-adult books, and film novelizations. In 1971 he published his first novel, a collaboration with Jean-Pierre Bastid, and embarked on his literary career in earnest, producing ten subsequent works over the course of the next two decades and establishing a new genre of French novel, the néo-polar (distinguished from traditional detective novel, or polar, by its political engagement and social radicalism). During the 1980s, Manchette published celebrated translations of Alan Moore’s Watchmen graphic novels for a bande-dessinée publishing house co-founded by his son, Doug Headline. In addition to Fatale, The Mad and the Bad, and Ivory Pearl (all available from NYRB Classic), Manchette’s novels Three to Kill and The Prone Gunman, as well as Jacques Tardi’s graphic-novel adaptations of them (titled West Coast Blues and Like a Sniper Lining Up His Shot, respectively), are available in English.

excerpt: 3 to Kill

And sometimes what used to happen was what is happening now: Georges Gerfaut is driving on Paris’s outer ring road. He has entered at the Porte d’Ivry.

Chapters 1, 2, & 8 from Fatale

The hunters were six in number, men mostly fifty or older, but also two younger ones with sarcastic expressions. They all wore check shirts, sheepskin jackets, waterproof khaki trench coats, more or less high boots, and caps. One of the two younger guys was all skin and bone, and one of the fifty-year-olds, a bespectacled pharmacist with white hair in a crew cut, was fairly thin.

Chapter 12 from NADA

In Ivry, at 2:00 p.m., Épaulard took possession of the green Jaguar and the paperwork. The machine dated from 1954. Its suspension was a horror, and acid escaping from successive batteries had made holes in the partition between the engine bay and the interior of the car.

from Ivory Pearl

The black Oldsmobile proceeded cautiously over the sand of a beach. Balazs was at the wheel. In the back seat Maurer and Branko sat on either side of a seven-year-old girl wrapped up in a sleeping bag whom they had rendered unconscious with a morphine shot.


The Brooklyn Rail

SEPT 2023

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