Friday, August 01, 2014

Westlake and Manchette

My friend who manages 57th Street Books (my home bookstore) pushed Jean-Patrick Manchette's The Prone Gunman (1981) into my hands this week, and I'm glad he did: it's a short, taut, bleak thriller about a hit man forced to postpone retirement, and it reads very much like a French cousin to Donald Westlake's work as Richard Stark. The passage that most directly called Stark to mind was this one, wherein Terrier, the hit man, gets the drop on a man who's been following him:
"They said you were an okay guy, that you might knock me around a little, but I only had to say I was a gofer and give you the name of the Rossi brothers and you would let me go! You're going to let me go now, aren't you?"


Terrier drew back a little on his seat and stopped pressing the barrel of the HK4 against the throat of the young man. The latter tearfully rubbed his neck.

"Oh! Thank you, thank you!"

"Take this message to Cox," said Terrier as he put a slug into his heart.
Reading that, Parker fans will no doubt find themselves thinking of a scene from Butcher's Moon. As Parker strides through the middle of a gang war he's fomented, he confronts a low-level gangster who pleads for mercy:
"I'm only the messenger!"

"Now you're the message," Parker told him, and shot him.
As Timothy Peltason points out in his excellent essay on the Parker books in the current issue of the Yale Review, Parker isn't generally one for snappy lines. Talking is generally a waste of time, and never more so than when you're about to shoot somebody. But at that moment in Butcher's Moon, he (or his creator) can't resist--and, slightly out of character though it may be, it has become one of Parker's signature moments. It's fun to see it echoed--most likely unknowingly--by Manchette.


  1. You probably don't want another book recommendation but since you're a Parker fan, you might enjoy the reissue of The Mongolian Conspiracy by Rafael Bernal

  2. I believe Manchette actually translated several Westlake novels, though I'm not sure which ones. The NYRB has also reissued a few. Fatale is quite a book. Short, violent, perverse, and memorable.