Originally published in 1942, Jean-Patrick Manchette’s novel “The Mad and The Bad” received an English translation by Donald Nicholson-Smith in 2014. Manchette is a genre-defining French crime novelist whose work examines questions of morality and critiques the evils of capitalism and greed. I have not read anything in the noir genre before, but this one drew my attention for its absurd summary and small page count.
Michel Hartog is an architect turned philanthropist after coming into a hefty sum of money following the death of his brother. His orphaned nephew, Peter, is a badly behaved child he must now take care of. Hartog hires Julie, a woman previously in a mental hospital, to watch over Peter. Thompson is a hitman with a stomach ulcer who loves his job. Hartog hires him to kill Julie and Peter. The job proves difficult after they both escape. Julie and Peter are on the run with Thompson and friends in pursuit—bullets start to fly, bodies accumulate, and chaos ensues.
“The Mad and The Bad” was an unusual read. It reads more like a screenplay than a novel because it is so linear and specific in its delivery and follows dual plot lines between Julie and Thompson. However, it keeps its intensity throughout which I liked. The sheer amount of death in the book was comical but ended up feeling more intentional than I originally expected.
Manchette's prose is very sharp; his descriptions of dull rooms manage to be exciting to read, and despite the morally questionable actions taken, I thought the characters were engaging and interesting.
As the novel is a mere 163 pages long, a lot was left to be desired— there was no character development, and parts of the chase felt rushed. I would have liked more information on the characters’ backgrounds before the main action started and more time spent on the chase as it was my favorite part of the novel. Despite this, I still found the book to be enjoyable and unlike anything I have ever read before.
I would recommend “The Mad and The Bad” and give it 3 out of 5 stars.