Saturday, August 27, 2011

The Prone Gunman

Audrey Niffenegger had to be looking over her shoulder with this book. About a third of the way through I really thought about putting it down. Picture some hack writing a bad screenplay for a Jason Statham flick (we're talking a typical non-Guy Ritchie Jason Statham movie where Statham is a driver/killer/disc jockey for hire). And I'm talking a hack, maybe some college kid who is a big Jason Statham fan and who really has no idea what makes a good story, good dialogue, good characters, because it doesn't matter since Jason Statham is in it and he's the bomb. Perhaps the founder of a Jason Statham fan fiction blog. Now picture Jason Statham being a Frenchman in this movie and the inherent drop off in coolness that this suggests. That's the starting point for The Prone Gunman.

I really should have stopped when I thought of stopping because somehow, this book got worse. I honestly laughed out loud in some sections it got so bad. Like this sentence:

"His haggard face at first registered great perplexity; then it registered worry, thoughtfulness, or whatever other movements of consciousness that might cause his face to look as it did."

The problem is that this is a French novel and at times, like with the above sentence, I thought that maybe the translator was being a practical joker. For instance, there tends to be a pattern in paragraphs talking about a character (which are frequent). A paragraph will begin with the character being named (usually the main character Martin Terrier). Then the second time the character is referenced, he will be referred to as "The man". Lower case "m", not upper case cool slang "The Man". Third mention will get the pronoun "he". Mad Guru should have put the book down. The man knew it sucked. He couldn't resist.

So that gnawed at me a bit. Maybe it's not the author but the translator's fault. But the story is just awful so no, I'm blaming Manchette.

Martin Terrier as a youth is a kid from the wrong side of the tracks. His mother left him and his dad for a truck driver soon after Martin was born. Martin, as an eighteen year old, falls in love with a hot chick two years younger who comes from a well-to-do family. Martin vows to win the All-Valley Karate Tournament....wait a minute, that was Ralph Macchio. My bad. Martin vows to make his fortune and return for her. Will she wait for him ten years while he goes and earns his bundle? Why sure, says the smitten sixteen year old. Not a problem.

You're not going to believe this....she doesn't wait for him! If you can't trust the word of a sixteen year old girl on matters of love, who can you trust? She married some snooty rich French guy (being French and all herself). You did what?!?!?! says the dejected Martin. But I've been saving up my money from doing contract killing for the last decade! And now that ten years have passed I'm ready for you. I quit my job! And even though I was banging this other chick who liked my cat more than me, I was really thinking about you. I did all this for you!

And it's not like Martin can go back to the other chick and his cat because the family of a guy he killed is after Martin and they killed the woman and her feline friend to send a message. I think. It wasn't really clear. The cat was gutted, placed in an aquarium filled with water, sealed, and shipped to Martin's hotel (where he was traveling incognito). I think it was a message.

Lo and behold, this same family shows up at the house of Martin's love and (good fortune!) kills her husband. Martin manages to kill the family and he and his babe go on the lam.

But, oh noes, that darn family killed Martin's financial adviser and took all the benjamins he had saved. Good fortune strikes again! His former employer will gladly pay him a bundle if he does this one last hit. Sigh. I'll do it. For love. I have my babe, now I just need the money.

Only Martin can't get it up for his babe. He blames the immense concentration required in preparing for this kill. This even though the kill is two weeks away and his employer has put him and his woman up in a nice place out in the woods. With three days until the scheduled kill, the caretaker of the place/Martin's driver on the kill/representative from the employer finally sits down with him to go over choice of weapons. No, we can't get the gun you want in just three days. You'll have to use this crummy gun. What?!?! If I can't have the gun I want, I'm going to go tell on you. Martin goes and calls his employer who says, sure, we can get you whatever gun you need. Whew. Thank goodness. Martin heads back to the place in the woods. He goes up to the bedroom and there's his woman banging the caretaker/driver. Does Martin the trained assassin shoot them both? Torture them? No. The trauma of seeing his woman going at with another guy causes Martin to go mute. No joke.

First she can't wait for him ten years, then she can't wait for him ten days. But Martin still loves her. Martin heads for the kill, realizes he is being setup, escapes, then kidnaps a guy working for those setting him up. He's still mute. When he kidnaps the guy, he grabs him by the ear and rips the guy (Sammy Chen)'s ear off.
Two of Sammy's associates come along and subdue Martin. The one sees Sammy's ear on the floor of the car and picks it up:

"I must be dreaming!" he exclaimed as he examined the red auricle. "Shit!" he added respectfully.

"This guy is really violent," said Sammy Chen with conviction.

Those last two lines are straight from the book. I'm really glad Sammy said that with conviction. I know I tend not to believe people whose ears have been ripped off when they say the person that did it to them is really violent.

There's a standoff. The whole reason why Martin is set up is really vague and goofy. The man gets shot in the head. He can talk again. He gets his babe but suffers from more performance issues. We get this stunning bit of text a couple pages from the end:

"But she soon tired of an existence entirely lacking in adventure-not to mention money, for Martin Terrier, under his new identity and with his current abilities, could find work only in the restaurant business: he was now a waiter in a brasserie. She also grew tired of three-minute coitus, or so we may surmise. In any case, she left suddenly and without explanation. And she has not reappeared in Nauzac, although she owns property there. May we surmise that she is running around the world and leading a passionate and adventurous life? We may; it's no skin off our nose."

Words fail me. And apparently the author, too. Well, I could write about what happened, or I could just say that we may surmise something. And even though until this point I have refrained from acknowledging that there are readers and I am the narrator, I think I'll make mention of it with two pages to go. No skin off my nose.

What else? A lack of detail except for brand names. Every make of vehicle and weapon is identified. Defining characteristics of people, not so much. Except for the black man. We know he's black. We're told that a lot about him. Citroen's are the vehicle of choice although other makes make appearances.

This was just awful. It is really short (thankfully!) and is so bad it does become entertaining. Because of that, Audrey is safe. I think Stephen Carter's New England White also falls below this just because of the length of his book and the blatant racism by the author, a Yale professor. But this passes The Museum Guard for putridity. I think I have to say this is the third worst book I have ever read. And to think that this guy is considered one of the best noir writers in France. Yikes.

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