An NYRB Classics Original

Michel Hartog, a sometime architect, is a powerful businessman and famous philanthropist whose immense  fortune has just grown that much greater following the death of his brother in an accident. Peter is his orphaned nephew—a spoiled brat. Julie is in an insane asylum. ...
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The Mad and the Bad

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An NYRB Classics Original

Michel Hartog, a sometime architect, is a powerful businessman and famous philanthropist whose immense  fortune has just grown that much greater following the death of his brother in an accident. Peter is his orphaned nephew—a spoiled brat. Julie is in an insane asylum. Thompson is a hired gunman with a serious ulcer. Michel hires Julie to look after Peter. And he hires Thompson to kill them. Julie and Peter escape. Thompson pursues. Bullets fly. Bodies accumulate.

The craziness is just getting started.

Like Jean-Patrick Manchette’s celebrated Fatale, The Mad and the Bad is a clear-eyed, cold-blooded, pitch-perfect work of creative destruction.
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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
★ 06/02/2014
First published in 1972, this taut crime thriller from French neo-noir master Manchette (Fatale) is suffused with the dissipated left-wing malaise of post-’68 France. Wealthy Parisian architect Michel Hartog springs Julie Ballanger from a New Age mental hospital and hires her to look after his nephew, Peter, a boy of six or seven whose parents died in a plane crash. Meanwhile, Thompson, a vicious hit man with a queasy stomach, eats choucroute after a particularly grisly job. A mysterious client recruits Thompson to kidnap Julie and Peter and kill them, making their deaths look like the work of the mentally unstable nanny. But Julie and Peter escape, and are pursued across France by Thompson and his thugs. Will Julie discover who hired Thompson in time to turn the tables, or will nanny flambeau be on the dessert menu? Manchette (1942–1995) unobtrusively weaves his social criticism into the well-paced plot. (July)
From the Publisher
"[Manchette's] writing is lean and relentless, a brutal evocation of a world in which conventional morality is just another lie we tell ourselves...The Mad and the Bad is so dark it redefines noir: bleak and pointed, yes, but also infused with an understanding that what passes between us is not only compromised but more often faithless, less a matter of commitment or connection than a kind of unrelenting animal need." —David L. Ulin, Los Angeles Times 
"A beautiful woman is freed from an insane asylum by a rich philanthropist who wants her to care for his nephew. But when the nanny and her charge are kidnapped, it’s not the ransom plot it appears—in fact, as they escape and flee the gunmen hired to kill them, the truth of the situation is clearly a metaphor for the left-leaning author’s deep cynicism about French society. Scenes play out like an art film—Manchette was also a screenwriter—right up until the prolonged, blood-splattered finale." —Booklist

“Jean-Patrick Manchette: raconteur, bon vivant, leftist militant, agent provocateur, swinger, French crime kingpin, gadfly foe of the Fifth Republic. Man-oh-man Manchette was a decades-long hurricane through the Parisian cultural scene. We must revere him now and rediscover him this very instant. Jean-Patrick Manchette was Le Homme.” —James Ellroy

“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. You’ll want to turn the pages of The Mad and the Bad at the fastest possible clip, but slow down a little and you’ll see how much Manchette packs in—and how much of a punch this mean little book packs.” —Sarah Weinman, Editor of Troubled Daughters, Twisted Wives

“‘The crime novel,’ [Manchette] claimed, ‘is the great moral literature of our time’—shortly before he set about proving it.” —James Sallis, The Boston Globe

“In France, which long ago embraced American crime fiction, thrillers are referred to as polars. And in France the godfather and wizard of polars is Jean-Patrick Manchette.... He’s a massive figure.... There is gristle here, there is bone.” —The Boston Globe
“Manchette is legend among all of the crime writers I know, and with good reason: his novels never fail to stun and thrill from page one.” —Duane Swierczynski, author of Expiration Date
“Manchette pushes the Situationist strategy of dérive and détournement to the point of comic absurdity, throwing a wrench into the workings of his main characters’ lives and gleefully recording the anarchy that results.” —Jennifer Howard, Boston Review

"Manchette...was instrumental in the development of a new generation of French crime fiction—the néo-polar—with his unpredictable, fast-paced, politically informed novels...[The Mad and the Bad] is violent, swiftly paced, and grotesquely funny." —The New Yorker

"A writer of urgency and cunning, of economy and laconic cool." Chris Morgan, Los Angeles Review of Books

“Manchette is an impressively economical writer, lean and mean, with a single-mindedness of focus which permits just enough detail to make the stories palpable but precludes distractions.”

"Building upon the hard-boiled genre and creating an offshoot of his own called the néo-polar, Manchette was a sincere but complicated trickster, a writer who claimed that detective fiction was 'the great moral literature of our time,' who wanted to use the genre to expose the pitfalls of capitalism and the victims of the exploited classes...and who produced thin novels that are very entertaining and stylistically singular.” —Tynan Kogane, Music and Literature

Kirkus Reviews
A young beauty sprung from an insaneasylum, a hired killer with a bad case of workplace anxiety, a calculatingphilanthropist and his orphaned nephew create nonstop havoc in this 1972 Frenchnovel, translated into English for the first time.The opening scene might lead you toexpect the grisliest kind of pulp fiction: The killer, Thompson,overcoming severe stomach cramps, shoves a hacksaw blade into the heart of asuspected pederast. And there certainly is no shortage of extreme violence.Right up until the end, people are getting shot, stabbed and bonked in the headwith heavy objects, a department store is left in flames, and the Frenchcountryside is at risk from speeding vehicles. But this is at heart amerciless comedy in which every violent act and utterance carries the potentialof hilarity. Julie, the beauty hired to care for the increasingly unstableyoung orphan, is a piece of work the likes of which we've never seen—lethal andmaternal. Manchette, who died in 1995, was a master of control. The fiercedeadpan tone of the novel never wavers even as its gang of criminalsdemonstrates its inability to shoot straight. As in a Jacques Tati film, sheerlunacy propels the story, one outrageous mishap triggering another. Set in the'70s, the book is on one level a sendup of classic noir, but it's no spoof,existing in its own perverse universe.A minor masterpiece from a Frenchnovelist whose other recently reissued works include Fatale and TheProne Gunman.
The Barnes & Noble Review

"Julie delivered a head blow to his face." A doughtier reader than I might have frowned here, tucked in his chin, and plowed on. But I, weak of mind, was stopped in my tracks. A head blow? To the face? What could that mean? The next line brought clarity, of a sort: "The girl's hard skull struck the man's chin, snapping his head back and causing him to collapse into a heap on the tiled floor." Aha — so she head- butted him. Then why not simply write "Julie head-butted him in the face"? Why this mysterious "head blow"? Which I just googled, by the way, getting plenty of results for head injuries and heads blown off, but not a single one to suggest a blow caused by a head . . .

I'm being finicky, perhaps. On the other hand, being finicky is my job, and Julie's head blow is not an isolated example, this NYRB Classics translation of Jean-Patrick Manchette's 1972 crime novel "Dingos," Châteaux seeming to derive its rhythms from neither English nor French, but from some invisible and possibly extraterrestrial third language. "Just around a sharp turn thousands of people were besieging stalls set up in the middle of the street." There has to be a better way to write that. Or how about: "The Simca bounded after them." The Simca is a car. Cars have wheels. Not legs, which would seem — unless you're in a P. G. Wodehouse novel — to be a prerequisite for bounding. So loaded is The Mad and the Bad, in fact, with weirdo word choices and grinding locutions that it bypasses mere awkwardness and begins to feel quite genuinely avant-garde. "The boy came to his feet. His free arm described a quadrant in the air and brought the wooden dog down on the bridge of Julie's nose." A quadrant, eh? That'll make you think. That'll bump you out of your tedious readerly reverie, your bourgeois-consumerist attempt to lose yourself in the narrative. "A rooster crowed in a horrible way." Suck on that, hypocrite lecteur.

The plot: an unpleasant millionaire, Hartog, plucks a young woman, Julie, from an insane asylum and presses her into service as a nanny for his nephew, Peter. Hartog has a disgusting personality, but he is famed for his philanthropy and employs a number of disabled people as his domestic staff. His embittered former business partner, Fuentes, drops by now and again to give him a good kicking. ("Call the doc," said Hartog. "I have broken ribs.") Julie has anger problems, substance problems, reacts badly to the word "police," and she's only been in the job a couple of days when she and little Peter get kidnapped. ("We are here to take the kid. There are two other armed guys around you.") She does have great legs, however. Meanwhile, an ulcerated hit man called Thompson has been lurching from gig to gig, groaning and holding his stomach. Only killing and getting paid can make him feel better . . .

So things proceed, pulpo-experimentally. Manchette's people are creatures of need and impulse, incurious about themselves, incurious about each other, jarring together in economic or predatory relationships. The straight world is a shapeless mass, barely worthy of description. "Along the way Julie and Peter passed students, mothers, old folks." The human body is also a bit of a shapeless mass: a lot of sweating goes on, which produces some notable instances of translationese. "The sweat gathered like drool on his glistening curls." "Sweat pearled at the roots of the seriously thinning hair on his liver-spotted cranium." (Perhaps "scalp" instead of "cranium"? Just a thought.) It's a vision all right — the carcass society, zapped into fitful animation by a live wire of criminality — but you can find it done a lot better, for my money, in George V. Higgins's masterpiece bummer The Friends of Eddie Coyle. Or for that matter in the streamlined existential hardness of Richard Stark's Parker novels, a number of which Manchette himself translated into French (I'd love to know what kind of a translator he was.)

A very Gallic prickle of literary antagonism comes off The Mad and the Bad. The blurbs on the back hail Manchette as "a decades-long hurricane through the Parisian cultural scene" (James Ellroy wrote that one) and novel itself as "a scathing critique of the excesses of greed and capitalism." James Sallis, in his introduction, writes that Manchette was deeply influenced by Guy Debord and Situationism, that he believed in the potential of the crime novel to be "the great moral literature of our time," and that his prose goes "skimming over polarized societies and forfeited lives, momentum never flagging." All of this may be true. The Mad and the Bad certainly contains a massacre in a supermarket, an outburst in a church meeting, and a scene in which Julie turns the pages of Vogue magazine and thinks to herself, "What legs! What ecstasy! If only I could be a model . . . " Julie and little Peter, fleeing their kidnappers, even go on a sort of chaotically violent Situationist dérive. But whether from the continual micro- alienations provided by the translator, or from some deeper frigidity in the text itself, this book left me cold. Slightly stunned by its badness, actually. As if by a head blow to my face.

James Parker is the author of Turned On: A Biography of Henry Rollins (Cooper Square Press), and a correspondent for The Atlantic.

Reviewer: James Parker

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781590177402
  • Publisher: New York Review Books
  • Publication date: 7/15/2014
  • Sold by: Barnes & Noble
  • Format: eBook
  • Pages: 184
  • Sales rank: 608,877
  • File size: 473 KB

Meet the Author

Jean-Patrick Manchette (1942–1995) was a genre-redefining French crime novelist, screenwriter, critic, and translator. Born in Marseille to a family of relatively modest means, Manchette grew up in a southwestern suburb of Paris, where he wrote from an early age. While a student of English literature at the Sorbonne, he contributed articles to the newspaper La Voie communiste and became active in the national students’ union. In 1961 he married, and with his wife Mélissa began translating American crime fiction—he would go on to translate the works of such writers as Donald Westlake, Ross Thomas, and Margaret Millar, often for Gallimard’s Série noire. Throughout the 1960s Manchette supported himself with various jobs writing television scripts, screenplays, young-adult books, and film novelizations. In 1971 he published his first novel, a collaboration with Jean-Pierre Bastid, and embarked on his literary career in earnest, producing ten subsequent works over the course of the next two decades and establishing a new genre of French novel, the néo-polar (distinguished from traditional detective novel, or polar, by its political engagement and social radicalism). During the 1980s, Manchette published celebrated translations of Alan Moore’s Watchmen graphic novels for a bande-dessinée publishing house co-founded by his son, Doug Headline. In addition to Fatale (also available as an NYRB Classic), Manchette’s novels Three to Kill and The Prone Gunman, as well as Jacques Tardi’s graphic-novel adaptations of them (titled West Coast Blues and Like a Sniper Lining Up His Shot, respectively), are available in English.

Donald Nicholson-Smith’s translations of noir fiction include Manchette’s Three to Kill; Thierry Jonquet’s Mygale (a.k.a. Tarantula); and (with Alyson Waters) Yasmina Khadra’s Cousin K. He has also translated works by Paco Ignacio Taibo II, Henri Lefebvre, Raoul Vaneigem, Antonin Artaud, Jean Laplanche, Guillaume Apollinaire, and Guy Debord. For NYRB Classics he has translated Manchette’s Fatale and is presently working on Jean-Paul Clébert’s Paris Insolite. Born in Manchester, England, he is a longtime resident of New York City.

James Sallis’s recent and forthcoming books include the novel Others of My Kind, a reissue of his novel Death Will Have Your Eyes, and Black Night’s Gonna Catch Me Here: Selected Poems 1968-2012. He is also the author of Drive and of Chester Himes: A Life, and the translator of Raymond Queneau’s novel Saint Glinglin.
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