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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

The Wicked Go To Hell

Frédéric Dard

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To purchase The Wicked Go To Hell

Title: The Wicked Go To Hell
Author: Frédéric Dard
Genre: Novel
Written: 1956 (Eng. 2016)
Length: 156 pages
Original in: French
Availability: The Wicked Go To Hell - US
The Wicked Go To Hell - UK
The Wicked Go To Hell - Canada
Les salauds vont en enfer - Canada
Les salauds vont en enfer - France
Die Lumpen fahren zur Hölle - Deutschland
  • French title: Les salauds vont en enfer
  • Translated by David Coward
  • The Wicked Go To Hell was made into a film in 1955, directed by Robert Hossein

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Our Assessment:

B : a bit simple, but some decent suspense and twists

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The Independent . 27/8/2016 Barry Forshaw
The Spectator . 1/10/2016 Jeff Noon
Wall St. Journal . 10/10/2016 Tobias Grey

  From the Reviews:
  • "Not much character nuance here, but, boy, is it fast-moving." - Barry Forshaw, The Independent

  • "This French novella, first published in 1956, is a beguiling if slightly awkward mix of tragedy and farce, gunplay and broad humour. (...) It’s a game of cat and mouse where cat and mouse are both wearing masks: claustrophobic, paranoid in the extreme, and very entertaining. A tough-guy version of Kafka." - Jeff Noon, The Spectator

  • "It is the weakest of these three novels by a long margin. Though the story of an undercover cop who infiltrates a prison to flush out a spy network is compelling enough, there is too much needless dialogue and an endless round of fistfights, whose only purpose seems to be to stress an undercurrent of homoerotic attraction that may exist between the two men." - Tobias Grey, Wall Street Journal

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       The Wicked Go To Hell started out as a play, and even the movie version preceded the novel(isation), and it certainly has a great theatrical premise: an introductory section has a man named Mérins agreeing to go undercover in prison, to break a spy who has been captured but won't give up any information -- most importantly, who he is working for. The plan is to have the man escape, with Mérins escaping with him, and winning his trust, so that the criminal leads him to the organization he works for.
       The narrative then switches from the first to the third person, and we are introduced to Frank and Hal, thrown in a cell together -- and Dard's twist here is that he doesn't reveal which of them is Mérins, i.e. who is the bad guy, and who the good.
       Both men are very suspicious of each other and each other's stories ("You read that in James Hadley Chase !" Hal says of Frank's tall tale), each accusing the other of being a cop and stooge. Ultimately, however they call an uneasy truce, and agree to work together.
       An execution in the prison provides ideal cover to plan an escape, and amazingly they manage to flee. One of them is injured in the shoot-out, but they reach some safety -- and even get a bit of help along the way. But they know they have to move on and find a safe spot to wait things out. It doesn't look promising:

     They had set themselves an impossible task. They were doomed from the start. There was no way out.
       Fleeing along the coast, they eventually find refuge on a small, uninhabited island -- a perfect hideout. With one of them essentially blinded during the escape, the balance of power isn't entirely level -- but they also have one revolver -- and three bullets .....
       Matters get more complicated with the arrival of a third person -- apparently essentially shipwrecked -- whom they can't allow to leave for the mainland until they themselves are ready to. Of course, things don't go quite the way they like -- and Dard adds a nice twist to the otherwise somewhat conventional denouement.
       The Wicked Go To Hell is a warped sort of buddy-story, the set-up reinforcing the idea that good and bad -- and the authorities and those seeking to subvert them -- are much more alike than we'd like to believe. Frank and Hal act very similarly -- so too when they have the opportunity to take advantage of the situation for themselves. The third element, that joins their island retreat, upsets what is in any case only a precarious balance, but the relationship between the two men remains unbreakable on some level.
       Of course, a happy ending isn't possible -- but Dard knows how to do those gloomy last bits satisfyingly well.
       As Hal suggests at one point:
It's a plausible enough story and you can't ask any more, not even of a story ...
       The Wicked Go To Hell is all lies and dissimulation, and certainly far-fetched -- but with a little suspension of disbelief there's just enough plausibility here. The story would have been well-served by being fleshed out just a bit more; as is, Dard pares it -- and the action and dialogue -- to the bone, which is presumably more effective on the stage or screen than here on the page.
       Still, it's a nicely dark story, and The Wicked Go To Hell is an enjoyably rough, crude, and fast ride.

- M.A.Orthofer, 28 September 2016

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The Wicked Go To Hell: Reviews: The Wicked Go To Hell - the film: Frédéric Dard: Other books by Frédéric Dard under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       French author Frédéric Dard (1921-2000) is best known for his 'San-Antonio' novels.

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