Wednesday, September 02, 2009

West Coast Blues - Jacque Tardi and Jean-Patrick Manchette

I’ve seen the work of French crime novelist Jean-Patrick Manchette discussed on the Yahoo group Rara-Avis but never read any of his books. I’d never even heard of French graphic novelist Jacques Tardi. So I came to WEST COAST BLUES, a graphic novel adaptation by Tardi of one of Manchette’s novels, with an open mind.

First of all, the title refers to the sort of jazz that’s referenced frequently in the novel, not the setting, since all the action takes place in France. The protagonist is George Gerfaut, a bored, burned-out sales executive who witnesses what appears to be an auto accident. However, a short time later a couple of professional killers begin stalking him, making an attempt on his life while he’s on vacation at the seashore with his family, and Gerfaut figures out that there must have been something more to the accident than he realized at the time. Out of a sense of self-preservation, he begins to investigate the incident, which of course puts him in even more danger.

The story really races along in this book, and although I had to wonder how an ordinary guy like Gerfaut was able to keep escaping from those supposedly competent hitmen, the pace is such that I didn’t question it too much. Gerfaut spends a lot of time brooding and isn’t a very likable hero, but I wound up rooting for him anyway. I didn’t care much for the art at first, either, but ultimately it works very well for the story. Overall, I liked WEST COAST BLUES quite a bit, enough so that it makes me want to search out Manchette’s novels that have been translated into English. If you enjoy hardboiled crime graphic novels, you should certainly give this one a try.


Vince said...

Can't wait to read this adaptation of Three to Kill. Manchette's The Prone Gunman is tremendous. I look forward to hearing what you think of his books.

James Reasoner said...

I just ordered THE PRONE GUNMAN.

Juri said...

James: for what it's worth, here are my comments on 3 to Kill (taken from Pulpetti):

Jean-Patrick Manchette: 3 to Kill (1975): one of the weirdest crime novels I've read in a long, long time. Very literary, it seems to be drawing its inspirations from the Roman nouveau of the fifties (very precise and detached style with emphasis on descriptions of people's clothes etc.), but also from the American hardboiled and noir crime novels. The story is about a man who finds a body on a highway and takes him to a hospital, only to find out that two killers are at him. He runs away after a violent burst of action at a gas station to find himself somewhere deep in the woods living with an old Stalinist. After the killers find him there, he decides to fight back and get back to his normal life. Manchette doesn't really give much weight to logical behaviour, but that would be beside the point; there are several clues about post-Marxist movements of 1968 and beyond to realize that this is a political novel - but about what, to that I found no answer. The English translation seemed too literary, too British to me.

I don't know how much of that weird policital commentary made it to Tardi's work, but it will still be interesting to see.

If you get the chance to read Tardi's work on Leo Malet's Nestor Burma novels, do check them out. 120, Rue de la Gare is one of the best graphic novels I've read.