I can’t say I’ve read much of Jean-Patrick Manchette’s work. In fact, all I’ve read of his shit is the fantastic Jacques Tardi graphic novel adaptation of Three to Kill entitled West Coast Blues. (Tardi’s take onManchette’s The Prone Gunman, Like a Sniper Lining Up His Shot, is coming out in July and waiting for that shit has been fucking painful.) So going into this review don’t expect that I’m some kinda fucking expert on the guy, that I’ve studied up on the politics of France in 1977 (when the book was first published) or the life and themes of Manchette or any hoidy-toidy shit like that. I’m just taking this in as a piece of pulp fiction, pure and fucking simple.
And for the most part, that’s just what Fatale is.
It’s the story of Aimee, a sexy and mysterious woman who runs a successful scam wherein she travels to a town, works her way into bourgeois society, discovers the town secrets, then blackmails and kills her way to riches before leaving to do it all over again. When we meet her she’s wrapping up one job and moving on to Bleville where the local industrialists, doctor, shopkeepers, and newspapermen all have nasty things to hide, making for the possibility of a major blackmail score for Aimee. But when it comes time to put the plan into action our seemingly sociopathic Aimee has a crisis of conscience as the murder victim in her scenario is not a capitalist pig like usual but the kindly and eccentric Baron Jules, the hoarder of the local dirt who said pigs will pay Aimee handsomely have murdered.
What is striking about Fatale is how clever Manchette’s prose is while his story is hugely cartoonish. Manchette throws in some sly post-modern touches into the narrative (referring to we, the readers and the like) and interestingly almost never lets us into Aimee’s head, just observes her, the simple story unfolding gradually. But in contrast to the subtlety of the style of the narrative is the actualy content of the story itself which is full of ridiculous violence, dialogue and characters. The final showdown of the novel turns our even-tempered Aimee into a fucking unstoppable killing machine, capable of complex, eighties-action-movie-style kills. The dialogue is rife with exclamation points and people saying exactly what they mean. Everyone Aimee meets is instantly an exaggerated buffoon or an all-around piece of shit, Manchette gleefully uglifyin’ the character with brutal descriptions.
Naturally, since every ugly, fat asshole she meets is part of the bourgeoisie, the novel isn’t exactly devoid of politics. As we eventually find out that Aimee is from meager means, Fatale is essentially a class warfare satire/revenge-fantasy, with Aimee taking the money and the lives of the exploiters of the working class. She may be a cold-blooded killer, but at least she’d never harm someone who breaks their back every day doing hard labor, just the pillow-titted douchebags who sign their checks.
As it is a fairly detached piece of writing with a simple, intentionally over-the-top plot, it’s doubtful Fatale is going give you a whole lot of thrills and chills. (I fucking hate that expression but, what do you know, I’m keeping it in there!) But if you’re up for a breezy (and insanely short) introduction to the unquestionable originality of Manchette, Fatale ain’t the worst place to start though far from the best, which in the Nerd’s limited experience would be, as stated up top, West Coast Blues from Fantagraphics. But what do I know? Isn’t having read a comic book adaptation of a Manchette novel, brilliantly done or not, the same as reading the Illustrated Classics comic of Huck Finn and claiming you’ve read a Mark Twain novel? (Just fucking with you, comic book nerds.)