In his final, unfinished novel, available for the first time in English, Manchette departs from crime fiction—but not extreme violence—to deliver a saga of high adventure.
Princess of the Blood, as the book was originally titled, is largely the story of Ivory "Ivy" Pearl, a Frenchwoman of international intrigue who ran away from an orphanage during the German invasion of France and, in her mid-20s, runs into war zones as a photojournalist modeled after Robert Capa. When she announces her intention to retreat to some isolated place to take nature photographs, she is directed to the Sierra Maestra mountains of Cuba. But there's danger there, what with a revolution brewing, an influx of arms dealers, mercenaries, and hit men, and a kidnapped girl. Manchette's sentences are so stripped down ("Her heart was not hardened but her skin was thick") that they sometimes seem held in place by a vise. The book is in the grip of hip culture, with a multitude of references to bebop recordings, American crime fiction, and stylish films of the period. This was to be the first of an ambitious cycle of novels. Ten pages of notes by Manchette outlining where the novel was headed are included. It's a shame he didn't get a chance to compose those works, but thanks to New York Review Books' translations, the English-speaking world has a generous sampling of his unique fiction to enjoy.
Idiosyncratic French novelist Manchette, whose 1995 death at age 52 prevented him from completing this existentialist thriller, went out in style. Short but sprawling, the novel packs a mean punch.