“Her heart was not hardened but her skin was thick,” writes Jean-Patrick Manchette of the titular protagonist in his last, unfinished novel, Ivory Pearl, translated from the French by Donald Nicholson-Smith with a superb ear for Manchette’s incomparable voice that easily shifts between the grit of the hyperfactual—“…in his right hand he held a semiautomatic Sauer Model 38 chambered in .380 ACP and fitted with a silencer”—and the nimble ability to sketch with the sparest of words the heart of a character, laid out, in this case, in three easy steps: “She wanted to become a professional photographer. She dreamt of meeting Robert Capa. She had an alarming predilection for images of dead bodies.” Ivy is a survivor who at one point casually, almost happily, admits having conveniently lost her appendix when she “caught that Viet round in ‘52.” And like so many other of Manchette’s characters, she also knows her jazz. Everything helps when you’re on a mission.

mad-and-badHe felt envy for Fuentès, which reminded him that he had to kill the man. The Arminius was in his left hand. Hartog crouched among the flowers and kept watch. From not far away, behind the walls, came the sound of gunfire. He counted four reports. He waited.

On April 29th, 1977, Jean-Patrick Manchette wrote in his diary that his editors at Gallimard’s famed Série Noire didn’t like Fatale (which was then titled La Belle Dame Sans Merci, after Keats’s poem of the same name), which prompted Manchette to request that it be published outside this legendary series of crime novels. He writes: “This negative response clearly shows what I should never forget: I alone (with Melissa [his wife, to whom Fatale is dedicated]) understand what I do.” The day after that he records a kind of statement of intention as an artist, reminding us just how much Manchette was a man of the Left, though his works could never truly be considered polemical. “I would prefer,” he writes, “to be contributing to the communist revolution. As of now I haven’t come up with a single thing to do for it. Thus my intention is solely to entertain, to distract.” Which doesn’t mean that politics doesn’t play a role in his novels.