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The Prone Gunman [Paperback]

Jean-Patrick Manchette , James Brook
4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
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Book Description

June 1 2002 City Lights Noir

Martin Terrier is a hired killer who wants out of the game—so he can settle down and marry his childhood sweetheart. After all, that’s why he took up this profession! But the Organization won't let him go: they have other plans. Once again, the gunman must assume the prone shooting position. A tour de force, this violent tale shatters as many illusions about life and politics as bodies.

Jean-Patrick Manchette (1942–1995) rescued the French crime novel from the grip of stodgy police procedurals, restoring the noir edge by virtue of his post-1968 leftism. Manchette is a totem to a generation of French mystery writers, and his stories have inspired several films, including Claude Chabrol’s Nada.

Also Available by Jean-Patrick Manchette
Three to Kill
TP $11.95, 0-87286-395-6 • CUSA


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From Publishers Weekly

A legend in Europe for the spectacularly tight and innovative thrillers he wrote for S‚rie 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.
Copyright 2002 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Booklist

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
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

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Customer Reviews

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4.7 out of 5 stars
4.7 out of 5 stars
Most helpful customer reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Top Notch Noir July 17 2004
Format:Paperback
I had previously read Manchette's other translated book, Three to Kill, and gave it a four star review. As The Prone Gunman is even better still, it warrants the full five stars. This is what noir is all about - a lean plot and lots of action. Indeed, I started reading the book one night, lost track of the body count, was amazed at the thrills and was shocked to discover I was only on page 48.
The plot revolves around a hired killer who is looking to retire and hook back up with the girl he had left behind some years before. Of course, nothing goes as planned. The family of a prior hit is after him, his bosses do not want him to retire and our "hero" himself is simply emotionally unprepared for a normal existence. Added to this is that the characters with whom he interacts are all morally vacuous. A reader will not find any sentimentality in this book. He will, however, find a lot of excitement.
Was this review helpful to you?
4.0 out of 5 stars The Bleak World of French Noir March 24 2003
By A. Ross
Format:Paperback
French crime writer Manchette's final novel was published in 1981 and now finally appears in English over twenty years later. Unmistakably influenced by Jean-Pierre Melville's brilliant 1967 film "Le Samourai", the story is about Martin, a professional hit man who wants to quit the business and return home to claim his childhood love. However, the mysterious government agency who hires him wants him to do just one last job... Of course this is an old story, and naturally Martin finds it's not so easy to just walk away. Having come from a miserable small town upbringing, he's proven himself in the big bad world and just wants to retire to a quiet beach somewhere with his old girlfriend. But this is the noir world of shattered illusions-as one character puts it, "You're dreaming, there are no more desert islands!" It doesn't take too much reading between the lines to uncover Manchette's larger political metaphor in the story of a kid who hires himself out to do someone else's killing for ten years only to find it's tainted him forever. The book is brutally dark, but if you like the whole nihilist crime thing, it's worth the two hours it takes to read. The lean story unfolds in rapid, flat prose without an ounce of sentimentality and it's not hard to see why Manchette quit writing after this. If your world view is that bleak, there's not a whole lot else to say, is there?
Was this review helpful to you?
5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant and Disturbing Dec 1 2002
By A Customer
Format:Paperback
As one reviewer summed it up, this is Dashiel Hammett meets Guy Debord, and it's true; flat, spare prose with a sense of existential nihilism from which there is no escape. Fast, rough, violent reading, told in a matter-of-fact procedural manner. The ending is telegraphed rather obviously, but this is first rate work, and if you're into violent noirs, you should read it. What a film it would make, in the right hands!
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Amazon.com: 4.0 out of 5 stars  7 reviews
17 of 17 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant and Disturbing Dec 1 2002
By A Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
As one reviewer summed it up, this is Dashiel Hammett meets Guy Debord, and it's true; flat, spare prose with a sense of existential nihilism from which there is no escape. Fast, rough, violent reading, told in a matter-of-fact procedural manner. The ending is telegraphed rather obviously, but this is first rate work, and if you're into violent noirs, you should read it. What a film it would make, in the right hands!
11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The Bleak World of French Noir March 24 2003
By A. Ross - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
French crime writer Manchette's final novel was published in 1981 and now finally appears in English over twenty years later. Unmistakably influenced by Jean-Pierre Melville's brilliant 1967 film "Le Samourai", the story is about Martin, a professional hit man who wants to quit the business and return home to claim his childhood love. However, the mysterious government agency who hires him wants him to do just one last job... Of course this is an old story, and naturally Martin finds it's not so easy to just walk away. Having come from a miserable small town upbringing, he's proven himself in the big bad world and just wants to retire to a quiet beach somewhere with his old girlfriend. But this is the noir world of shattered illusions-as one character puts it, "You're dreaming, there are no more desert islands!" It doesn't take too much reading between the lines to uncover Manchette's larger political metaphor in the story of a kid who hires himself out to do someone else's killing for ten years only to find it's tainted him forever. The book is brutally dark, but if you like the whole nihilist crime thing, it's worth the two hours it takes to read. The lean story unfolds in rapid, flat prose without an ounce of sentimentality and it's not hard to see why Manchette quit writing after this. If your world view is that bleak, there's not a whole lot else to say, is there?
8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Top Notch Noir July 17 2004
By Dash Manchette - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
I had previously read Manchette's other translated book, Three to Kill, and gave it a four star review. As The Prone Gunman is even better still, it warrants the full five stars. This is what noir is all about - a lean plot and lots of action. Indeed, I started reading the book one night, lost track of the body count, was amazed at the thrills and was shocked to discover I was only on page 48.
The plot revolves around a hired killer who is looking to retire and hook back up with the girl he had left behind some years before. Of course, nothing goes as planned. The family of a prior hit is after him, his bosses do not want him to retire and our "hero" himself is simply emotionally unprepared for a normal existence. Added to this is that the characters with whom he interacts are all morally vacuous. A reader will not find any sentimentality in this book. He will, however, find a lot of excitement.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Starts off Great, But Ultimately Disappoints July 26 2010
By Lee Goldberg - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
This is a frustrating book. It starts off great, with some of the leanest, meanest prose you'll ever find in a noir... taking the familiar "hitman on his last job" scenario and making it seem fresh. Terrier is an odd, interesting character...hardly the smooth , self-assured, perfect killer. He's quite possibly nuts. And all of that is great, especially when he returns to his hometown to reclaim his old love. But then, after a short time, the story shifts into a break-neck, almost ridiculous action-adventure before ultimately devolving, inexplicably, into farce. It's a shame, because so much of the book works so well. It's as if the author lost faith his story, or got tired of what he was doing, and decided that his efforts were worthy only of ridicule, but finished it anyway, using his last few pages to insult himself. The book reminded me of The Four-Chambered Villain, an obscure novel about hitman that's played perfectly straight, and also of The Eiger Sanction by Trevanian, which was *meant* to be farce but, to the author's dismay, was taken seriously as thriller (as I wrote in Thrillers: 100 Must-Reads. At least EIGER was consistent in its tone, PRONE GUNMAN is not. But it was intriguing enough for me to buy Manchette's other book, THREE TO KILL. If I judged the book purely on the first 2/3rds, it would have earned four stars.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars The Prone Gunman Takes Aims With Its Spare Style Aug. 21 2008
By Loren Eaton - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
From ISawLightningFall.com

THREE-AND-A-HALF STARS

It's customary for Americans to mock the French, but honesty compels us to admit that our continental cousins do a lot of things well. Fine wine, for example, and gourmet cuisine and sixteenth-century theological reformations. Let me add something else to the list -- slim volumes of literary-minded noir. Consider Jean-Patrick Manchette's The Prone Gunman to be Exhibit A.

Noir could be summed up as desperate people doing criminally nasty things, and The Prone Gunman more than owns the label. Its protagonist, Martin Terrier, is a hired killer for an unnamed outfit dubbed The Company and he's good at his job. Need a bare-handed, face-to-face hit or a long shot with a high-powered rifle? Neither are a problem for Terrier, but his heart really isn't in killing. All he wants is to make his mint, marry his upper-crust childhood sweetheart and retire to a south sea island. But once you're in The Company, it isn't exactly easy to get out ...

Manchette's spare style is both his greatest asset and liability. He writes like Hemmingway, penning short, observational sentences that preclude you for his characters' thoughts. This makes for some disjointed jumps in point of view and a few confusing passages where one must decipher the emotional import of Terrier's mannerisms. But instead of turning to overly expository dialogue to communicate feeling, he uses another technique -- repetition. Simple, off-hand observations -- the course of a cold winter wind, a recipe for a mixed drink, a description of abstract art hanging in a condo -- crop up again and again, gradually accreting significance. You see this best in the final chapter. Though it's an almost word-for-word reiteration of the introduction, Manchette turns it just so, makes all the pieces come together and slams you in the chest with it like a sledgehammer.

It's an impressive feat, but also unsatisfying. Downbeat dénouements have their place, but the strong shot of fatalism Machette added to Terrier's violent escapades spoils the mix for me. Of course, I am American and therefore essentially optimistic, a characteristic the French have never minded mocking.
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