My Favourite Crime Novels – No. 14

The Prone Gunman – Jean-Patrick Manchette, like Georges Simenon, has that very great skill of packing a lot into very few pages. The prose is icy-cool, camera-eye stuff and the action unrelenting. The basic story is about a professional hitman called Martin Terrier who tries to quit his life and return to his home town to be with the woman he loves. But basic story be damned, it’s a more potent brew than that, which is to be expected of a writer who called crime fiction the ‘great moral literature of our era’. Still, don’t get me wrong, it is also a cracking, fast-paced thriller, but if you look beneath the surface it is also a lot more than that. The hero is a poor boy made good and a superb assassin, but he is also emotionally a bit of a child, not surprising considering that he’s a sociopath, and not half as bright as he likes to think he is. The woman he loves is now a very damaged alcoholic who finds Terrier to be a bit of an idiot and the organisation he works for have no intention of letting him leave, at least not alive. From here on in everything starts to fall apart for Terrier and the bodies mount up. The twist at the end is beautifully done; so much so that I’ll not give it away, but Terrier ends up becoming what he wanted to escape from in the first place. It’s a truly bitter pill, but as grim joyrides go The Prone Gunman is one of the best there is! Read it. Now!

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