I have to confess I haven’t read any of Jean-Patrick Manchette’s original novels but, if you like crime (the genre, not the activity), I suspect this book is the kind of thing that might get you exploring them. Yet, on the other hand, Jacques Tardi’s four adaptations and collaborations, collected here in two volumes, are so brilliantly formed, perhaps you don’t need to bother. Whether Tardi adds more to Manchette’s work with his brittle, down to earth characters, is a question for someone else to answer. But I can answer the question of whether this collection has elevated my personal love of Manchette and Tardi collaborations, and the answer is a resounding “yes.”
This isn’t the first time I’ve read Like A Sniper Lining Up His Shot. Looking back at that review now, having read four Manchette and Tardi stories back to back, I can see why this collection exists. Taken individually, these are cracking crime stories. However, Like A Sniper Lining Up His Shot, taken in isolation, is a spike of bleak, moral bankruptcy that sits uneasily amongst the other things you’ve read. However, drown yourself in Manchette and Tardi’s brutal world, where no-one is innocent and horrific violence breaks out at the twitch of a hair trigger (and is over just as quickly, even if the consequences then echo through the story) and you’re inescapably drawing out themes. You’re marvelling at the characters, the sometimes almost farcical sequences of events, the emotionless narration, and the other elements that run through all these stories.
Griffu, the first story in the first volume, is a fabulous starting point. Within the first few pages, the main character has broken into an office to steal some papers, only to be duped by his employer and left to take the rap. Things go from bad to worse as he tries to extract his revenge, in an underground world of crime and violence where, when all is said and done, he’s the tiniest wheel in a very complicated machine. No-one comes out of it well. Get used to it: it happens a lot.
Next, along comes West Coast Blues, which ratchets things up so far they fall off the other side. What starts as a wrong-man-in-the-wrong-place-at-the-wrong-time turns into an epic misadventure. Its protagonist, a family man who attracts attention to himself by saving the wrong man from a car crash, is soon so embroiled in a tsunami of violence that it takes him months to extract himself from it.
By this time, revisiting Like A Sniper Lining Up His Shot is a pure treat. It starts with Martin Terrier, the sniper in question, taking out a hit in Manchester. As we progress through the story, however, this seemingly cool, professional murderer is manipulated and twisted, our perception of him is changed and even the narrator seems to turn on him. It’s a tumultuous rollercoaster of a story, but again has Manchette’s themes rippling through it.
The final story is Run Like Crazy, Run Like Hell, a fascinating thriller that slowly unfolds in depth, with characters that grow exponentially more complex, devious and deadly as the story progresses. There’s a similar tone to West Coast Blues, with a heroine thrown into a series of bewildering set-pieces as professional crooks bungle their way through failed kidnappings and assassinations while she’s left trying to make sense of it all.
As something of a bonus, there’s an unfinished adaptation of Fatale, abandoned when Manchette didn’t finish the story. Note, however, that this has since been finished by Doug Headline, Manchette’s son, and brought to comics in Manchette’s Fatale.
Tardi’s art is perfect for this job. Crunchy and down to earth, his characters feel like people you could pass in the street, though you’d better hope you don’t. He clearly adores the stories, so there’s no point where you feel he’s hurrying through. Helped by the brutal efficiency of the narrators, the art is pacy and consistent throughout. What you don’t get with Tardi is depth or atmosphere through lighting. Everything here is stark and exposed, but then so are the stories. It’s a perfect fit.
So, if French noir is your thing, this collection of stories is just perfection. While taken alone they might seem disjointed and, perhaps, a bit strange, as a group you can let this wave of Manchette’s ideas crash over you. Immerse yourself in his cruel, violent world, and thank Tardi for bringing his brilliance to comics in his clear, unfussy style.