Manchette, Jean-Patrick - 'The Prone Gunman' (translated by James Brook)
First published in its original French in 1981, THE PRONE GUNMAN was made available in English in 2002 as a US edition followed by this UK edition from Serpent's Tail in 2006.
Short but definitely not sweet, THE PRONE GUNMAN covers the life of assassin Martin Terrier in a mere 160 pages. As he reaches adulthood, Terrier leaves his small town and demands that his girlfriend, who is out of his league, waits ten years for him. Ten years later, Martin tries to quit his lucrative job of professional killer and return home for the woman he loves. However as normally happens with this type of occupation, the bosses make it very hard for him to leave. Eventually he is coerced into taking one last job. As well as not wanting to work anymore, his financial, health and love matters also take a downturn.
THE PRONE GUNMAN is a noir tale told in a lean, spare style. The ending is never predictable and yet extremely fitting. Manchette has made his lead character, a professional killer with no qualms about hurting people who get in his way, someone you feel almost sorry for as his life goes from bad to worse. He's not as clever (or maybe as lucky) as he first appears.
This is not my normal reading, with its parts of graphic violence, but the quality of the writing kept the pages turning until I was disappointed to reach the end. Worse, the only other Manchette book available in English, THREE TO KILL, is even shorter at a mere 128 pages.
THE PRONE GUNMAN will be in my list of top reads of 2007.
Karen Meek, England