Vol. XXII, #2 New Japanese Fiction
Review of Contemporary Fiction
3 to Kill, by Jean-Patrick Manchette. Trans. Donald Nicholson-Smith
reviewed by James Sallis
City Lights, 2002. 134 pp. Paper: $11.95.
What’s essential is not so much a reinvention of the novel as an ongoing redefinition of it. Beginning in the early 70s, Jean-Patrick Manchette achieved for the French crime novel just such a redefinition, rescuing the genre from the sludge of police procedurals and stylized exoticism it had become and setting it like a cur at the heel of contemporary literature. “The crime novel,” he said, “is the great moral literature of our time.” A massive presence in France and throughout Europe, Manchette to this point has remained untranslated and wholly unknown in the States. Now City Lights, in its new series of European crime novels, offers 3 to Kill, the first of Manchette’s stream of ten great novels, with the last, The Prone Gunman, promised soon. For Manchette, and largely for the generation of writers who followed him, the crime novel is far more than entertainment: it’s a means to combat and decry the failings of society, burning its way through pages and the blitz of the everyday to rivers of power and influence beneath. 3 to Kill tells the story of an ordinary man who, arbitrarily set upon by killers, steps out of his life to turn their killing back upon them. As ever, the novel is brilliantly written, replete with allusions to art, literature and music, papered with the very texture and furniture of our lives. Manchette is Camus on overdrive, at one and the same time white-hot, ice-cold. He deserves much the same attention.