By Jean-Patrick Manchette, Trans. Donald Nicholson-Smith
When we first see her alone, our heroine is locked in a train compartment, eating sausage, drinking champagne mixed with her own blood, and rubbing legal tender stinking of "piss and sperm"over her naked, sweating body. The money has been acquired through assassination, and by the time she reaches her destination, the quiet town of Bléville, where she fully intends to commit another, she has "retrieved all her customary self-assurance."
Here is the roman noir as practiced by Jean-Patrick Manchette: blunt, punishing, and strangely elusive. Manchette (1942-1995), in thrall to Marx as much as to Hammett, produced ten crime novels, mostly in the 1970s (Fatale is ‘77), and has since been largely forgotten in America. The plot resembles a warped version of Hammett's Red Harvest (source code for Kurosawa's Yojimbo): Aimée, our aforementioned heroine, arrives in town, ingratiates herself with the local petit-bourgeois, then isolates their largest problem and eliminates him or her for a sizable sum.
Aimée's past is vague, but she is driven, much like her creator, out of hate for "the real assholes." Thus is she derailed in Bléville: the town's biggest problem is Baron Jules, a misanthrope who shares her disgust with self-satisfied "solid citizens." In taking the hit, Aimée forces herself into a situation she cannot abide and ensures a desperate explosion of violence. Though only 90 pages, Fatale outpaces Manchette's other two translated works, The Prone Gunman and Three To Kill, in illuminating what he elsewhere referred to as the "hopeless... final individual revolt." Retaining Manchette's usual pitch-black humor, Fatale escapes customary charges of coldness through its unsparing ferocity and proves him an author of the order of Jim Thompson and Derek Raymond.