It was winter, and it was nighttime. An icy wind, having blown straight down from the Arctic, funnelled into the Irish Sea, swept over Liverpool, and raced across the Cheshire Plain, where cats flatted their ears, shivering, upon hearing it rumble in the chimneys. The window blew over the small Bedford van’s lowered window, straight into the eyes of the man sitting within.
The man did not blink.
At that point the man blows some guy’s brains out as he passes by. Pieces of him splatter hither and yon, while the target’s girlfriend’s bowels empty when the silenced gun’s trigger is squeezed against her rapidly beating heart.
If you’re not with it in those two pages best close the cover and find something else. From there, the book gets bleak.
Jaques Tardi has already proven with West Coast Blues that he is just the man for the job when it comes to illustrating the particular brand of noir crime Jean-Patrick Manchette so deftly dished out. There’s a palpable feeling of safeness when you open the book – nothing to do with the subject matter, of course, but with such certifiable masters captaining the ship you’re quite willing to grant them the clichéd crime novel beginning (the hired assassin, fed up and tired, agrees to do one last job before packing it in and disappearing to the countryside to farm chickens) trusting that it will lead somewhere totally unexpected, which it does.
The Paris in this book is not the Paris of romance: Tardi’s rain-wet cobbled streets and sleety misery are a vision of brutal February cold you can feel on the sunniest summer day. There is not an ounce of unnecessary authorial manipulation, here: the book has a natural rawness – things happen as they happen and no almighty narrator drip feeds you morality lessons; no one is innocent or remotely likable, bar the cat. Brisk prose makes no effort to speak down to its readers, but briskness does not result in cool tough-guy one-liners either. It’s less Phillip Marlowe and more Mike Hammer. Remember that feeling you got in your guts just before the end of Kiss Me Deadly? It feels a bit like that. The first page grabs you roughly by the hair and the book happens in those split seconds before the last page punches your lights out.