3 to Kill – Jean-Patrick Manchette(Translated by Donald Nicholson-Smith)

Reviewed by JD Jung

Shit happens. OK, that’s probably an understatement as it relates to Georges Gerfaut. Then again, maybe not.

Gerfaut, a rather ordinary 30-something businessman, discovers how twisted life can get in the late Jean-Patrick Manchette quickie thriller, 3 to Kill.

It all begins—well, not really, “… what used to happen was what is happening now…” –as Gerfaut euphorically speeds along a Parisian road listening to his favorite West Coast jazz cuts. He comes across an accident and an injured passenger. He reluctantly stops, not out of compassion, but out of fear that he will be cited for not coming to the aid of the victim. He drops the injured man off at a hospital, and just leaves without giving out his name. This simple gesture finds our “Good Samaritan” stalked by two hit men intent on killing him.

When these thugs fail at their murder attempt, Gerfaut still doesn’t know why they are after him. What he and the readers do fall upon are a series of absurd events whereby Gerfaut’s world is turned upside down. Even he eventually has to slam on the brakes, pursue his predators, and find some answers.

Now back to my original thought. Why am I taking such a lackadaisical view of what happened to Gerfaut? Simple. While reading 3 to Kill, the reader takes on the role of observer/ voyeur. Manchette purposely remains detached from his characters, while still creating an intense story that you just can’t put down. He stylishly writes in objective narrative with vivid description interspersed with dark humor.

Though the personalities are completely fleshed out-even the minor ones- you don’t feel for our protagonist or any of the others; you simply observe. In many ways even Gerfaut is void of certain emotion. However in this case, it works. It may be that at a mere 134 pages, Manchette can take on that freedom of emotion whereas a much longer novel would not afford him that.

Though the translated English version was published in 2002 by City Lights, the original French text was released in 1976. Manchette adds his political slant with Gerfaut, the one-time militant socialist in the early 1960’s, now driving a Mercedes and sipping Cutty Sark. While sitting on the other side of the civil unrest of the late 1960’s and early 1970’s he still remains somewhat of a leftist. This side trip doesn’t slow down the plot; rather it gives us a historical reference while adding color and depth to the story and character.

3 to Kill provided me a welcome change from the usual murder mystery. Manchette has a few French noir-style novels translated in English and I’m eager to snatch them up.

This entry was posted in Crime, Mystery and Thrillers, French literature, Lost and almost forgotten, Noir-esque fiction, World Literature. Bookmark the permalink.

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