Lee Goldberg here:
I recently read a slim, 1981 French thriller, published in the U.S. in 2002 by City Lights, and that I've had on my shelf for years. It's called The Prone Gunman (aka La Position du Tireur Couche ) by Jean-Patrick Manchette and it is a frustrating book. It starts off great, with some of the leanest, meanest prose you'll ever find in a noir... taking the familiar "hitman on his last job" scenario and making it seem fresh. I fell in love with the prose and the world-view. The hitman, Martin Terrier, is an odd, interesting character...hardly the smooth, self-assured, perfect killer. He's quite possibly nuts. And all of that is wonderful, especially when he returns to his hometown to reclaim his old love. But then, after a short time, the story shifts into a break-neck, almost ridiculous action-adventure, and even that is a lot of fun, before ultimately devolving, inexplicably and disappointingly, into outright farce. It's a shame, because so much of the book works so well. It's as if Manchette lost faith his story, or got tired of what he was doing, and decided that his efforts were worthy only of ridicule, but finished it anyway, using his last few pages to insult himself. The book reminded me of The Four-Chambered Villain, an obscure novel and also uneven novel about hitman that's played perfectly straight, and also of The Eiger Sanction by Trevanian, which was *meant* to be farce but, to the author's dismay, was taken seriously as thriller (as I wrote in my chapter of 100 Must Read Thrillers). At least EIGER was consistent in its tone, PRONE GUNMAN is not. But it was intriguing enough for me to buy Manchette's other book, THREE TO KILL. If I judged the book purely on the first 2/3rds, it would have earned four stars.