A legend in Europe for the spectacularly tight and innovative thrillers he wrote for Srie Noire beginning in 1971, Manchette (1942-1995) retired from the field after this tour de force of violence and the absurd appeared in 1981, apparently feeling he had reached the apex of his art. Martin Terrier plans on quitting his career as a paid assassin and marrying his childhood sweetheart, Anne, but his bosses in the gun-for-hire trade refuse to accept his resignation. Terrier's naive expectations that his girlfriend will have chastely waited for him are ridiculous, of course, but no more so than his ex-boss's idea that this human killing machine can be forced to perform one last contract on a visiting politician without profound collateral bloodshed. Terse behaviorist prose-"Terrier drew back a little on his seat and stopped pressing the barrel of the HK4 against the throat of the young man"-drives the narrative relentlessly and even gleefully forward. Absolutely nothing goes as planned, while the hit man knocks off anyone who gets in his way even as Manchette mercilessly (and amusingly) chronicles the impotence unexpectedly plaguing Terrier's love life. For the first time readers can experience in English translation the masterful thriller considered Manchette's finest, proof positive that the French knew what they were talking about when they labeled this sort of novel noir.
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French hit man Martin Terrier wants to quit the killing-for-francs business and go home to marry his childhood sweetheart. Those in charge want him to assassinate one more person--the Arab sheik Hakim--and, confiscating Terrier's savings, coerce him to do so. Learning that his assignment is actually a setup that will truly be his final mission, Terrier foils the plot just in time, gets his revenge, gets the girl, and starts a new life in the Ardennes. Fin? Non. Terrier's blissful retirement and our happy ending are spoiled by the leftover bullet lodged in his brain and his unsavory new tendency to blabber. His lack of savings forces him to work as a waiter, and his wife, tired of poverty and three-minute coitus, eventually leaves him. Originally published in France in 1981, this taut, fast-paced novel flexes with all the standard noir elements: mysterious motives, a gritty hero, detailed technical descriptions of firearms, and a high corpse-to-page ratio. Its ironic denouement also tempts us to interpret it as a commentary on French politics and on the noir genre itself. Brendan Driscoll
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