John's Reviews > The Mad and the Bad

The Mad and the Bad by Jean-Patrick Manchette
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Jun 28, 2017

it was amazing

If the Monty Python team could ever be induced to write a noir novel, this is the kind of novel they might write. I don't mean that it's full of jokes -- although there are a few, and I found that, despite myself, I was grinning much of the time as I read -- but that it has the same sort of manic, over-the-top inventiveness that we came to associate with the Pythons.

Michael Hartog is a fabulously wealthy architect whose wealth and success are entirely due to the fact that his elder brother, heir to the family fortune, died with his wife in a plane crash. Unfortunately, this left Hartog with not just the money but his seven-year-old nephew, the brattish, tantrum-wielding Peter. Getting rid of Peter would render Hartog's life a whole lot rosier . . .

So he hires the flaky Julie straight out of mental hospital to be Peter's nanny and sets up with the obsessive English hitman Thompson an elaborate scheme whereby the crazed Julie, out of custody after all these years, will seem to kidnap Peter and then kill both the little boy and herself.

Of course, the scheme goes wrong. Julie may be crazy but she's not nuts -- and she's not stupid either. Moreover, neither of the bad guys has reckoned with the strength of the bond she almost immediately forms with Peter. Julie fights back with devastating effectiveness, and soon Thompson and his two thuggish heavies find themselves pursuing nanny and child across France.

As with the other Manchette novels I've read, this is pretty short and, as the action almost never flags for more than a fraction of a second, it's a quick read. Add in that Donald Nicholson-Smith's translation is really quite superb and it's no wonder that I enjoyed The Mad and the Bad so very much.
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Reading Progress

Started Reading
June 27, 2017 – Finished Reading
June 28, 2017 – Shelved

Comments (showing 1-2 of 2) (2 new)

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message 1: by 'Fred' (new)

'Fred' Found this on Todd Mason's Friday rundown, and I must say, I'm intrigued. Funny child kidnapping stories (O. Henry's The Ransom of Red Chief and Donald E. Westlake's Jimmy the Kid, which reacts to the O. Henry story) have a fairly long involved provenance, as do dark serious ones, and sounds like Manchette is going the midway route here (and let's not forget Cassavetes' Gloria, although that's not about a kidnapping).

Manchette has been one of the principal translators of Westlake's work in France, so we can take it for granted he read Jimmy the Kid. I was aware he was a crime writer of some renown himself, so happy to learn he's available in translation, and I will get around to reading this soon.

John I hadn't seen Todd's roundup for today by the time I read your comment, so was momentarily startled!

I'm concerned I may have conveyed the wrong impression of the book here, because it's not really a kidnapped-brat story like Jimmy the Kid: the kidnapping's only an even along the story's way from here to there; the child, because of his relationship with Julie, rather swiftly loses his brattishness; and anyway the focus of the tale is really Julie, with Peter as almost her appendage.

I'm not sure, to be honest, that I can offhand think of an English-language novel with which I could usefully compare this one. Although it's very clear he was influenced by the US paperback noirs, Manchette's kind of his own bird, really.

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