The Mad and the Bad
Written by Jean-Patrick Manchette
Translated by Donald Nicholson-Smith
Published by the New York Review of Books Classics, 2014
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.
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.
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.
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
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
“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
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