Books, I Read It First

I Read It First: The Gunman

Another week, another movie book. Continuing on the theme of secret agents, we now have a classic story of how trying to escape a life of hired crime will literally always fuck you. And also everyone you know will be murdered horrifically.


The Book: The Prone Gunman ~ Jean-Patrick Manchette, translated from French by James Brook

Genre: hard-boiled noir thriller

First impressions: The main thing I got from reading this book is confirmation that I still don’t like thriller novels, so you’ll have to take my opinions with the appropriate layer of salt on this one. That said, The Prone Gunman is pretty much exactly what you’d expect from a mob thriller book, complete with promiscuous women, stoic men with explosive egos, gun fights, and a whole lot of graphic murder. It follows Martin Terrier, alias “Christian,” a hitman who wants out of the business to start life anew with his childhood sweetheart Anne, who promised to wait for him for ten years. Spoiler alert: she didn’t wait for him, and his old bosses aren’t so keen on him leaving.

Martin’s return to his hometown and subsequent escape from it, Anne in tow, leaves a string of creatively murdered bodies across France. At one point, he goes completely mute from psychological shock, and the whole things winds up with him losing his ability to murder and starting life over again as a waiter with a drinking problem, just like dear old dad.

Published in 1942, this book is basically a fore-runner of the shoot-em-up thriller genre, so it’s not really fair to call it formulaic, but that’s how it reads. Martin is basically just a gun with a libido, and everyone around him target practice. His sudden psychological break rendering him mute is the only interesting thing that happens in the whole book, and that gets old fast. Plus, the ending is a complete fizzle, though thematically it could have been insightful if there’d been more set-up for it. Instead, it reads like Manchette just got bored and scribbled the first thing to come to mind: a descent into irrelevance. Basically, I give this book a resounding “eh.” At least it’s not very long.

Will it adapt?: This one is a tough call. On the one hand, it’s got that over-the-top violence thing going on that always translates well to film, and the story wouldn’t be hard to cut down to 70 minutes. The most unique gag–the going-silent–would also be way more interesting on film than in text. However, it also requires that you track an awful lot of characters and their poorly defined motivations, which is much harder to do in movies than books. The ending is also troublesome, though I doubt it’ll stay intact. They’ll probably cut it at “Martin murders the bad guy and bangs Anne!” and leave all those fiddly rest-of-the-story bits to the scrap heap. I think this will turn out an entertaining movie, but so severely altered from the original plot as to be unrecognizable. Also Idris Elba is in it, so it’s probably worth checking out for…other…reasons.

Should I read it?: If you’re into that sort of thing. It never hurts to read a classic in a preferred genre. If thrillers aren’t your bag, though, I’d give it a miss.

Thrillingly yours,
M.M. Jordahl

“She gave him a kiss as cold and wet as a raw clam. She gave him an icy look. ‘Go get yourself killed,’ she said.” –The Prone Gunman

This post is part of my I Read It First series.

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