Some years earlier, I was impressed by the two Manchette novels I had read – Three to Kill and The Mad and the Bad. No reviews on both of them here, because it was in the pre-blog days, but given that quite a few of his books have been published recently, I felt it was time to pick up another one.

Chaos reigns supreme in Fatale, another delicious, slim novel from Manchette’s oeuvre. When the book opens, Aimée Joubert, quintessential femme fatale, has left a trail of bodies in her wake, mostly of people belonging to the wealthy and privileged set.

Aimée has a single-minded focus – when on a mission in any particular area, she gathers information on members of the elite society there and leverages it to extract money.

“Well, it’s the same as ever, isn’t it? It seems slow, but actually it is quite fast. Sex always comes up first. Then money questions. And then, last, come the old crimes. You have seen other towns, my sweet, and you’ll see others, knock on wood.”

Aimée is now on her way to a town called Bléville (literally translated as Doughville). Like any other town or city, Bléville has within its folds all strata of society, but Aimée is not interested in the working class obviously, heading towards the upscale residential neighbourhood instead.

Once ensconced in a spacious apartment she finds with the help of moolah-loving realtor, Aimée begins to steadily move around in these upper circles and blend in with them. A series of dinners, openings, bridge games follow and Aimée attends them all, always the cool observer.

At one such opening at a mansion, Aimée spots Baron Jules pissing publicly against the walls of the house. The baron is not at all liked in the town, his reputation is tarnished. A notoriety for voicing frank opinions and a stint in a psychiatric hospital have blemished his image.

We are also introduced to a variety of characters Monsieurs Lorque and Lenverguez, owners of a food factory, and “the pillars of Bléville’s prosperity. There’s Monsieur Moutet, a senior manager at the factory. His wife Christiane Moutet along with Sonia Lorque team up with Aimée for a series of bridge sessions. And then there is Lenverguez’s wife who is carrying on an extramarital affair with Baron Jules.

Aimée, meanwhile, goes about her business in town, attending parties and get-togethers, gathering information on the residents and honing her physical fighting skills. The plot suddenly thickens when a series of fatal food poisonings pushes the town residents to the edge.

When the spotlight glares on the powerful Lorque and Lenverguez, all hell breaks loose and Aimée plans to take advantage of the chaos that ensues.

Aimée is a fascinating character. She is a highly trained killer with gorgeous looks, but romantic entanglements do not interest her. Her past is murky – we learn that she was married, but subsequently killed her husband for abusing her.

“It was a genuine revelation, you see,” said Aimee to the baron. “They can be killed. The real assholes can be killed.”

Her motives seem to be purely driven by money and she has no qualms killing her wealthy victims who have largely risen to the top riding on the waves of corruption and exploitation.

Baron Jules could be labelled as left wing as far as his views go. He hates the town residents with intense fervour and claims to know all about their darkest secrets, although he hasn’t yet revealed any of it. As far as the town is concerned, he is a loose cannon.

“You poor old fool,” said the factory owner. “Nobody dares say it to your face, but I’ll say it: You are not welcome here, you are not invited. You think you can do whatever you like because everyone in Bléville is afraid of you. Well, I’m not afraid of you.” Lorque glanced at the man with the mustache. “Commissioner, throw this man out!”

“I don’t give a fuck!” cried Baron Jules as he was hustled towards the door. “I’ll be back to piss all over the place.”

The commissioner and the servants threw him down the front steps. He rolled into the gutter. “I don’t give a fuck,” he cried once more. “You’re all done for.”

These are some striking, bold set pieces that dot the novel – signature Manchette stuff. For instance, right at the beginning when travelling in a luxury train compartment, Aimée, all alone in her cabin, gorges on pickled cabbage and champagne, strips naked and rubs all the banknotes against her body. It’s the only time we glimpse her taking pleasure in something, in sharp contrast to the cold efficiency she displays otherwise. Then there is the incident of Baron Jules deliberately peeing in public as a mark of scorn, a man who greatly unsettles Aimée and which will later have consequences.

In terms of themes, Fatale explores the dark side of capitalism, and is an indictment of the evils of status and class differences. The novella surges ahead at a frenetic pace, and the noir is as black as it gets hurtling towards a conclusion that does not leave much room for hope. The madness and mayhem depicted within is characteristic of Manchette’s writing – I am particularly reminded of that striking supermarket set piece in The Mad and the Bad.

In a nutshell, Fatale, is another excellent novel from Manchette’s repertoire, well worth a read with a terrific NYRB Classics cover to boot.

2 thoughts on “Fatale – Jean-Patrick Manchette (tr. Donald Nicholson-Smith)

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