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The Prone Gunman (1982)

by Jean-Patrick Manchette

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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2951264,526 (3.71)11
Martin Terrier is a hired killer who wants out of the game so he can settle down and marry his childhood sweetheart, Anne. After all, that's why he took up this profession in the first place. But the organization won't let him go-they have other, more deadly plans for him. There's a visiting politician, an Arab oil magnate, whom they want assassinated, and Terrier is their man. Once again, the gunman must assume the prone shooting position-but not everything goes according to plan.A tour de force, this violent tale shatters as many illusions about life and politics as it does bodies. It is perhaps the finest work from the pen of Jean-Patrick Manchette.… (more)

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Showing 1-5 of 11 (next | show all)
Brutally effective policier that goes a tad bonkers at the end. Obviously it had almost nothing at all to do with the movie but there was enough here to make me want to find some other Manchette work. ( )
  asxz | Mar 13, 2019 |


"Dobofsky opened his mouth to shout. Terrier quickly shot him once in his open mouth and again at the base of his nose. At the discreet sound of these shots, the redhead turned. Terrier also turned, and they found themselves face to face just as Dubofsky's head, which was split open, full of holes, and shattered like the shell of a hard-boiled egg, hit the sidewalk with a squishy sound."

Whoa, baby, now that's some scene! But let's step back. There's more to Jean-Patrick Manchette's action-packed, fast-paced noir crime thriller than simply blood, bullets and bodies. The author's compressed literary prose has much in common with two modern movement of French literature: the existentialism of Jean-Paul Sartre and the Nouveau Roman (new novel) of Alain Robbe-Grillet.

For starters, let’s consider the above quote from the first few pages of the novel. We have the dead man’s shattered head creating a squishy mess counterpoised with objects described by brad name on those same pages: the killer’s little Bedford van, his Ortgies automatic pistol with a Redfield silencer, his Gauloise French cigarettes, the victim’s Tyrolean hat. In the modern world of mass produced, long lasting brand name products, there is one part of life that is almost out-of-place, completely de trop: sweating, fleshy human bodies with their unending bodily needs.

Thus we have our first clear-cut glimpse of existential alienation and Nouveau Roman’s focus on objects, in detail, over character. Indeed, many the time the author contrasts sleek, smooth, shiny attractive merchandise against cruddy humans soiled by acne, blackheads, blotches, stringy hair - squat, plump, dumpy or skinny men and women forever slobbering, belching and farting. The author’s depicting the human body as a sack of filth echoes the language in Sartre’s Nausea and The Wall as well as Alain Robbe-Grillet's The Erasers and Jealousy. French existential and Nouveau Roman themes of disgust, ugliness and estrangement, anyone?

True to Jean-Patrick Manchette form, The Prone Guman is all action, nothing but action, including subplots and interludes – novel as Pulp Fiction-style cinema, the narrator functioning as the camera’s eye hovering over professional killer Martin Terrier completing an assignment in England, returning to Paris in order to gather his belongings, bid adieu to his girlfriend and inform Cox, his boss, that he’s quitting in order to embark on a new phase of life. Make that new phase of his hyper violent life since Cox and the unidentified Company he represents have other plans, big plans, for their hired gun.

Let’s pause here to observe this apartment jam-packed with ultramodern furniture and Pop Art, Op Art and Kinetic Art (our eyes needn’t linger on Cox’s lips sticky with maple syrup or the short guy with black eyes and big belly leaning on a balcony railing) and Terrier standing in the middle of the room, a tall, handsome man with blue eyes and brown hair. Feel free to picture Martin Terrier as Sean Penn or Woody Harrelson; actually, since I myself fell in love with lethal Aimée Joubert from Manchette’s Fatale, somewhat fancifully I switch genders and picture Terrier as a slim, fetching knock out – Uma Thurman, Lucy Liu, Vivica A. Fox, Daryl Hannah – complete with piercing eyes ready to inflict damage on anybody foolish enough to stand in her path.

As Terrier leaves Paris in a Citroën DS 21 for his home town, we learn of his plan: when age eighteen he asked his teenage sweetheart Anne Freux to wait ten years for him, at which time he would return for her. Anne agrees. A ten year plan! One is reminded of Joseph Stalin’s five year plan for the USSR back in the twenties. Let’s not forget Jean-Patrick Manchette was a disenchanted Marxist and infused his fiction with a strong political slant. Stalin’s five year plan lead to a living hell for millions of Russians. Any guesses as to where Terrier’s ten year plan will lead?

One scene has Terrier back in Paris at the Châtelet station of the Paris Métro. In a station recess, Scandinavians play a version of Franz Schubert ’s Death and the Maiden on flute, harmonica and violin. In another part of the station a half dozen rockers are pounding away on another rocker in order to steal his boots. Are these rockers French, Eastern European, Caribbean? Could be any nationality since, as Cox points out to Terrier, the world is all the same nowadays, there’s no escape. In other words, we are all one world culture. Thus Jean-Patrick highlighted back in 1981 when his novel was published a phenomenon that has become an integral part of our everyday vocabulary: globalization.

Ah, globalization. This gets back to the nebulous Company orchestrating the string of political assassinations. Is the Company Russian? American? French? German? Is it perhaps a sinister side of a corporate conglomerate or a hidden international political or economic alliance? In the new globalized culture, does it really matter? Curiously, the person who appears to be a top dog of the Company has no name but is simply referred to as “Blue Suit.”

I’m well aware a movie was made based, in part, on the novel, a movie I have no interest in seeing. For me, Manchette’s novel is more than enough – I’ve read the book and listened to the audio multiple times, each time coming away with new jewels of insight. And I can promise you, the ending will be a surprise, bringing to mind another influential well-known writer frequently associated with existentialism and absurdity: Samuel Beckett. To discover the degree of accuracy of this comparison, I urge you to read The Prone Gunman twice: first time as crime thriller and then again as a deeply probing mediation on the absurd nature of modern life. One thing for sure – you will keep turning the pages.


French author Jean-Patrick Manchette, 1942-1995 ( )
  Glenn_Russell | Nov 13, 2018 |
Nasty, brutish, and short. About 150 pages and très noir ( )
  kerns222 | Jun 11, 2018 |
Martin Terrier wants out. Having worked as a paid assassin for "the company" run by an obscure American, Mr. Cox, he decides to return to his native town where he had left Anne Freux who had promised him to wait for him ten years before while he sought his fortune. Now everything has gone to shit; Cox doesn't want him to quit as he has a big job coming, his financial advisor has committed suicide after losing all his clients money, and worst of all they killed and dismembered his cat. Anne has married Felix in the meantime ("I only drink whiskey-sours because they taste like vomit. “If you systematically drink something that tastes like vomit,” continued Félix, “you won’t be confused when you end up vomiting.” ) who is killed in a shoot-out forcing Martin/Christian to go on the run.

The ending is satisfactorily unpredictable and unexpected. Perhaps it was just me, but the translation felt a bit off in spots. There was apparently a movie tie-in with a Sean Penn thriller entitled The Gunman that I watched but with which I could find zero resemblance. ( )
  ecw0647 | Sep 5, 2017 |
Classic French noir. No one can be trusted, and hardly anyone is spared a grisly fate - including pets. Bond for hipsters? ( )
  alexrichman | Feb 11, 2017 |
Showing 1-5 of 11 (next | show all)
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Jean-Patrick Manchetteprimary authorall editionscalculated
Brook, JamesTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed

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It was winter, and it was dark.
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Original title: La position du tireur couché. This should not be combined with the Tardi graphic novel adaptation Like a Sniper Lining Up His Shot.
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Martin Terrier is a hired killer who wants out of the game so he can settle down and marry his childhood sweetheart, Anne. After all, that's why he took up this profession in the first place. But the organization won't let him go-they have other, more deadly plans for him. There's a visiting politician, an Arab oil magnate, whom they want assassinated, and Terrier is their man. Once again, the gunman must assume the prone shooting position-but not everything goes according to plan.A tour de force, this violent tale shatters as many illusions about life and politics as it does bodies. It is perhaps the finest work from the pen of Jean-Patrick Manchette.

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