Tough times, anxiety high, friends and family without jobs, virus threatening — where does one turn?
To French fiction, to Jean-Patrick Manchette’s novels of the 1980s, to Pascal Garnier’s novels from the 2010s. Unlike police procedurals, these promise no final and trimumphant unravelling of the mystery. The detective, if there is one, will not live beyond this book. Nor will the murderers. Nor will anyone of import. Our questions as readers are about what is happening? Who are these people? What kind of society breeds and enables people like this?
How do we know these books are worth reading? Because of sentences like these from the first pages of Manchette’s Ivory Pearl:
“Maurer was young, very likely under twenty-five.” This narrator is in the same position as the reader: What you see is what you get. Very likely is what we get.
“And neither the shot nor what followed had made more noise than a man slapping an uncut book on a table and proceeding to cut a few pages.” This narrator is a reader too, a reader who knows books from an earlier time, a literate narrator who compares a gunshot to a reader’s gesture.
These books take readers to a morally simpler, crisper, blacker world. Compared to a world strangled by a vicious virus, Gallic noir cleanses our pallets and returns us, thankfully, to our own knotted complexities.