Reviews > Published on July 15th, 2014

Bookshots: 'The Mad and the Bad' by Jean-Patrick Manchette

Bookshots: Pumping new life into the corpse of the book review


Title:

The Mad and the Bad

Who Wrote It?

'The Mad and the Bad' is a lot like a rollercoaster: it builds anticipation with a steady-but-not-too-slow climb, then it drops you into a high-speeding, sharp-turning, upside-down spinning ride that is both joyous and slightly terrifying.

Jean-Patrick Manchette, a celebrated French crime novelist, screenwriter, translator, and critic, perhaps most famous for his novel Fatale. He is also credited with reinvigorating noir crime novels in the 1970s. This is the first English translation of The Mad and the Bad. More at Wikipedia.

Plot in a Box:

Michel Hartog is a famous and wealthy architect who plucks Julie from a mental institution to play nanny to his orphaned nephew Peter, a spoiled little shit. Hired killers led by the infamous assassin known only as Thompson—who literally can't eat until a job is finished—kidnap Julie and Peter. Non-stop action, fire and BLOOD ensue (and I do mean BLOOD—enough to make Tarantino wince).

Invent a new title for this book:

Batshit—'cause that's what this book is (and that's a good thing).

Read this if you liked:

The new wave noir films of Jean-Luc Goddard (in particular Band of Outsiders and Alphaville), the absurdist satires of Alex Cox (in particular Straight to Hell and Walker), and of course, anything by Jim Thompson. 

Meet the book's lead:

Julie, who is described by Manchette as such: "She was beautiful, but in a startling way; she might have been taken for a transvestite."

Said lead would be portrayed in a movie by:

Aaron Paul in drag. Seriously, he's a good-looking woman

Setting: Would you want to live there?

The French countryside sounds lovely, so long as it's not on fire or soaked in blood. Given that the French countryside is pretty much always on fire and/or soaked in blood in this novel, I suppose I'll have to pass.

What was your favorite sentence?

There are plenty of top-notch hard-boiled sentences in The Mad and the Bad, but this line made me laugh for a solid five minutes:

Skintight blue jeans emphasized his considerable genital apparatus.

The Verdict:

The first thing to understand about The Mad and the Bad is that it doesn't take itself too seriously. Editor and critic Sarah Weinman says this of the novel (reprinted from the New York Times Book Review Classics blurb page, which I don't recommend reading, since it's full of spoilers):

This early masterpiece by Jean-Patrick Manchette shows him in most glorious, coldest fury, wrapping a scathing critique of the excesses of greed and capitalism in the bloody bow of a chase thriller.

True, Manchette is taking greed and capitalism to task, and he's doing so within the context of a crime novel; but he's also utilizing full-blown absurdism and black comedy. This is apparent in the first scene of the book (not counting the "introduction," which is actually a prologue), in which Hartog's luxurious car rolls into an insane asylum where the patients are allowed to roam free, throw rocks at whatever they please, and malevolently urinate into molehills (not kidding) in an attempt to teach them self-discipline. Right from the start, Manchette throws realism out the window and tells his readers to buckle up.

Indeed, The Mad and the Bad is a lot like a rollercoaster: it builds anticipation with a steady-but-not-too-slow climb, then it drops you into a high-speeding, sharp-turning, upside-down spinning ride that is both joyous and slightly terrifying (or, in this case, grotesque). Also, like a rollercoaster, it's over before you know it: at 184 pages, you'll breeze through it no time. 

So if you're looking for something equally light and dark, pick this book up. It's a quick, not-too-heavy, bloody good read (and remember, I do mean BLOODY). 

About the author

Christopher Shultz writes plays and fiction. His works have appeared at The Inkwell Theatre's Playwrights' Night, and in Pseudopod, Unnerving Magazine, Apex Magazine, freeze frame flash fiction and Grievous Angel, among other places. He has also contributed columns on books and film at LitReactor, The Cinematropolis, and Tor.com. Christopher currently lives in Oklahoma City. More info at christophershultz.com

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