Over the weekend, I read a slim, 1981 French thriller, published in the U.S. in 2002 by City Lights, and that I've had on my shelf for years. It's called The Prone Gunman (aka La Position du Tireur Couche ) by Jean-Patrick Manchette and it 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. I fell in love with the prose and the world-view. The hitman, Martin Terrier, is an odd, interesting character…hardly the smooth, self-assured, perfect killer. He's quite possibly nuts. And all of that is wonderful, 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, and even that is a lot of fun, before ultimately devolving, inexplicably and disappointingly, into outright farce. It's a shame, because so much of the book works so well. It's as if Manchette 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 and also uneven 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 my chapter of 100 Must Read Thrillers). 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.
I also recently read Angela S. Choi's delightfully subversive Hello Kitty Must Die, sort of a chick-lit DEXTER. It was a nice diversion…and offers a fresh perspective on the sociopathic killer-as-hero sub-genre.
2 thoughts on “The Prone Gunman”
Hi Lee – I loved Prone Gunman, and I too thought the last third was somewhat ‘weird’ but overall a wonderful book to read, but try Manchette’s THREE TO KILL, another masterwork –
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It does sound as if the writer found he could no longer believe in the conventions of the genre and deteriorated into farce and parody.
One writer I discovered in the University of Guelph library was, of all things, a really good Canadian thriller writer who wrote from about 1913 to about 1933, or so. His name is Frank L. Packard and there are some of his books at the “Online Book Page” if they aren’t in your libraries in L.A. Packard is throughly believable and has a terrific sense of the danger his heroes are going through. And he’s just so intelligent. He’s a writer that makes you respect the genre more with each book you read.