The Mad and the Bad

This edition printed in:

A tortie sits on a Victorian chair, her nose turned towards the book that stands beside her.

Rainy Hikes

Today we decided to fit in our last hike of the week. It wasn’t raining and a check of the forecast assured us that it wouldn’t rain while we were out. But the forecast lied. It poured at the exact moment that we were the furthest away from home or shelter. We got soaked. I could be annoyed at the weather, but is there really a point? It’s best to just enjoy the rain and think about the warm tea waiting when you get home.

It’s also helping my lovely spouse’s new flower bed bloom — and there’s some pressure on it this year because she decided to get some native bee-friendly blossoms from the Royal Botanical Garden’s seed library. In order for there to be some seeds to return, they have to grow and bloom and then go to seed again. I wish I could somehow ask the bunnies and chipmunks to please, please, please leave just these plants alone.

A tortie sniffs a book: The Mad and The Bad by Jean-Patrick Manchette.

A Brilliant Crime Story

No one can beat Jean-Patrick Manchette when it comes to creating both intricate and gritty crime stories that are both quintessential examples of the genre as well as being quintessentially French. He’s a master of using setting, characters, and plot twists to craft a high-throttle, dizzyingly paced story that keeps you guessing right until the very end.

The Mad and the Bad (O Dingos, O Chateaux!) is about a kidnapping and assassination gone wrong as a boy and his babysitter lead their would-be assassins on a chase throughout the French countryside. There’s a very high body count as the collateral damage keeps widening with a firefight in a grocery store and a chase through crowded streets. Part of what makes Manchette a master is that he knows how to give just the right amount of information to the reader. You know just enough about the characters — no more, no less. You are provided with just enough background information. It keeps the story tight and moves things along in ways that longer works often struggle with. Perhaps if you look closely you can see the traces of a formula, but it is applied so skillfully that it doesn’t detract from the enjoyment or impact of the narrative.

The Mad and the Bad features a cover that had a picture of a sterile steel elevator room with a huge pool of blood oozing in from under the door.

The Bad

None of these characters are good people, so it is to be expected that they have disgusting behaviour and attitudes. However, I would argue that there is too much of it. There are too many incidents of homophobia, transphobia, misogyny. There’s too much of the main character — Julie Bellanger — being naked or stripped for no reason and not caring about it. Too much of her stripping herself down to her underwear or being naked for no seeming reason. Women generally don’t take off their clothes to express upset, but apparently Manchette thinks they might.

A tortie sits on a Victorian chair, backlit by a bright light. A book stands in front of her.

This is the kind of content I expect when I set out to read crime fiction from the 1970s, but as I said there’s a lot of it and I expect most of it was added just to create a feeling of ‘grit’. Maybe it did at the time that it was published, but it definitely doesn’t anymore. A modern reader will definitely cringe — and cringe a lot. It doesn’t render the book unreadable as long as you’re prepared for it, but it can be jarring and it will be too much for some readers.

A tortie sniffs at you. Jean-Patrick Manchette's The Mad and the Bad lies by her paws, its cover showing a picture of a pool of blood.

A Note on Various Adaptations

What drew me to this book was really my exposure to Manchette’s work in other mediums — specifically comic books. Jacques Tardi is an incredible illustrator that brings a number of Manchette’s novels to life. These were the adaptations that I encountered first, but there are also many films as well, one being released as recently as 2017. I highly recommend the graphic novels. The images only add to effect of a breakneck pace and the streamlined nature of Manchette’s style.

Though Manchette died in 1995, he’s made enough of an impact on crime fiction and has a distinctive enough writing style that he will not be forgotten. He is also often imitated — which is an indication of impact as well. Chances are that even if you don’t read any of his novels, you will encounter his work sooner or later in one form or another.

A black-and-white photo of a tortie and a book.

Now The Bathtub is Full

Because we got so wet in the rain we had to put a lot of our hiking clothes in the bathtub to dry. The jackets and the hats are in the foyer. Usually the cats are all over any article of clothing we leave there, but these ones are just too damp and they do not like to get wet. Not even in solidarity.

Right now, my reading stacks are immersed in spooky books since I’m getting ready for a spookaganza on this blog in both August and October to celebrate my lovely spouse’s favourite holiday. Stay tuned for Halloween in August in just over a month. Until then, I’ll try not to get defeated by the heat of July, put on the vintage spooky playlist and try to pretend that autumn is just around the corner.

The Mad and the Bad by Jean-Patrick Manchette sits by the paws of a tortoiseshell cat.

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