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NO ROOM AT THE MORGUE by Jean-Patrick Manchette


by Jean-Patrick Manchette ; translated by Alyson Waters

Pub Date: Aug. 11th, 2020
ISBN: 978-1-68137-418-5
Publisher: New York Review Books

An ex-cop–turned–private eye gets involved in a murder and finds the woman who brought him into the case may be the killer.

Eugène Tarpon, the hero—if such a thing is possible in the nihilist atmosphere of this book—quit the police force after accidentally killing a protester. His attempt to make a go of it as a private eye has brought him to the brink of ruin, and he's about to retreat from Paris to his rural hometown when a mysterious woman (in noir, is there any other kind?) asks him to investigate the murder of her roommate. When he turns up at the scene, the cops are already there, the woman has disappeared, and the detective finds himself the object of police interest. Manchette, who wrote this book in the 1970s, is widely credited with revitalizing French noir. The novel is driven more by plot than attitude, and its nihilism doesn't preclude the possibility that people will act decently. At times, as when one person after another—potential clients and would-be tormentors—keeps showing up on the hero's doormat when all he wants is to nap and enjoy a tin of cassoulet, the book takes on the escalating complications of a screwball farce. An extended kidnap sequence, in which the hero finds himself stuck between thugs and the bumblings of a group of radical leftists, is brutal and funny at the same time. The plot sags a bit and the windup depends too much on pat psychologizing, but neither does too much damage to the fun.

If Marx, Freud, and Jim Thompson collaborated on a noir, this might be the result.