Saturday, January 20, 2007

Review of Three to Kill

The simplest stories are often the best. A straightforward tale, well told, will always be superior to one that relies on linguistic flourishes or tricky plotting to try and maintain a reader's interest. Three to Kill (Serpent's Tail: 2007) by Jean-Patrick Manchette and translated by Donald Nicholson-Smith is one of those simple tales. The story of a Parisian salesman, Georges Gerfaut, who, through no fault of his own , becomes the target of two hitmen, Three to Kill is crime fiction stripped down to the bone. The only recent novel to which it can be compared is James Salls' Drive. Sallis has praised Manchette, and Drive is written with a similar economy of language.
Gerfaut is a bourgeois everyman. He has a wife, two children and a job that affords his family a comfortable lifestyle. When Manchette introduces him, however, he is speeding in his car, high on booze and pills, going in circles. How did he get to this point?
He stopped to help a man who has been in a car wreck, but who was in fact the victim of an attempted assassination. In doing so, he becomes the target of a team of hitmen/lovers hired by a paranoid old military policeman from the Dominican Republic. After the hitmen attempt to drown Gerfaut at the beach, where he has gone with his family on vacation, he is wrenched free from his humdrum existence.
Finding himself released from the shackles of societal expectations, Gerfaut finds peace for a while in a remote village until another act of violence forces him back into the world from which he fled. Throughout most of the novella, Gerfaut is reacting, not acting. He stumbles along, making choices only when he must, and even then he drifts, landing where he may. While he does prove to be resourceful and decisive in the end, Gerfaut is a man uncomfortable with freedom, and, at the end of the book, uncomfortable with the stable existence to which he ultimately returns. Where does that leave him? Going in circles.

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