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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

The Mad and the Bad

Jean-Patrick Manchette

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To purchase The Mad and the Bad

Title: The Mad and the Bad
Author: Jean-Patrick Manchette
Genre: Novel
Written: 1972 (Eng. 2014)
Length: 167 pages
Original in: French
Availability: The Mad and the Bad - US
The Mad and the Bad - UK
The Mad and the Bad - Canada
Ô dingos, ô châteaux - Canada
Ô dingos, ô châteaux - France
Tödliche Luftschlösser - Deutschland
Pazza da uccidere - Italia
  • French title: Ô dingos, ô châteaux
  • Translated by Donald Nicholson-Smith
  • With an Introduction by James Sallis

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Our Assessment:

B+ : fast-paced, messy, wild

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The LA Times . 22/7/2014 David L. Ulin
New Statesman . 19/3/2015 Russell Williams
Publishers Weekly . 2/6/2014 .

  From the Reviews:
  • "That’s a heavy weight for a caper novel to carry, but Manchette pulls it off. His writing is lean and relentless, a brutal evocation of a world in which conventional morality is just another lie we tell ourselves. (...) The Mad and the Bad is so dark it redefines noir: bleak and pointed, yes, but also infused with an understanding that what passes between us is not only compromised but more often faithless, less a matter of commitment or connection than a kind of unrelenting animal need." - David L. Ulin, The Los Angeles Times

  • "The tension never lets up but Manchette’s main skill lies in how his plots subtly extend to shrewd social analysis. The Mad and the Bad becomes a consideration of contemporary "madness" and "badness" that points out the pernicious influence of money on morality and mental well-being and, pre-empting the psychologist Oliver James’s work on "selfish capitalism", it explores a relationship between commodity fetishism and illness." - Russell Williams, New Statesman

  • "First published in 1972, this taut crime thriller from French neo-noir master Manchette is suffused with the dissipated left-wing malaise of post-’68 France." - Publishers Weekly

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 original French title of The Mad and the Bad, the striking: Ô dingos, ô châteaux is a play on Rimbaud's poem, 'Ô saisons, ô châteaux', and Manchette surely means that piece to echo in the reader's mind, his own brutal novel a complement to the poem that asks, among much else that is apposite, already in its second line: 'Quelle âme est sans défauts ?' ('What soul is blameless ?'). There's certainly not much innocence in Manchette's hardened world: in the brief introductory chapter (numbered zero, starting at the very ground) professional killer Thompson goes about his business, efficiently and brutally, and then is off to Paris to get his next assignment; shown the picture of a young boy by his client he's asked:

     "Does this bother you ?"
     "Not at all," said Thompson.
     What bothered him was his stomach. It was starting again. The pain was back.
       Maybe, deep down, guilt is eating away at him -- he suffers throughout the novel -- but he won't let that stop him. Thompson is exactly what you want in a hit man, a consummate professional -- someone who won't let anything, even his own physical discomfort, get in the way of getting the job done. He's typical of Manchette's driven and obsessive characters -- but he's hardly the only one in The Mad and the Bad, and that's what makes for the carnage and mayhem that ensues.
       The set-up is brilliant: Michel Hartog was not particularly successful as part of a two-man architect team, but when his brother and sister-in-law died tragically in a plane crash he came into a fortune. As he is reminded:
You are a soap, oil, and detergent magnate. You are rich and you are a philanthropist.
       The only drawback: the fortune came with his nephew, Peter, a barely school-aged brat who is -- or at least eventually will be -- the heir to all this wealth. Peter's last nursemaid has left, so Hartog has to hire a new one -- and he has rather unusual hiring practices:
The boss's way of doing good is over the top. He only hires retards. He sets up factories for cripples to work in, can you figure that ? [...] The cook is epileptic. The gardener has only one arm, pretty handy for using the shears. His private secretary is blind.
       Yes, everyone is damaged goods -- and so too Peter's new minder, whom Hartog picks out, and then picks up, straight from the loony bin, Julie Ballanger, who has spent the last five years in an institution.
       As it turns out, there's method to Hartog's own apparent madness: barely installed in the household, Julie and her charge are kidnapped, and Thompson is setting her up to take the fall in the death of the kid that Hartog wants to get out of the way (though of course she isn't meant to get out of this alive, either). It's an inspired plan but when Thompson leaves some of the follow-through up to his associates things start to go wrong; soon enough, Julie is on the run with the kid, Thompson and his somewhat less competent cronies in hot pursuit, and Hartog willing to do and pay whatever it takes to make sure Peter and Julie don't survive. Soon enough the Molotov cocktail's are flying through department stores. "Screaming redoubled" -- no kidding.
       On one level, The Mad and the Bad is just a brutally over-the-top cat-and-mouse thriller. As the boy reminds Julie when she claims:
     "We're not in a hurry."
     "Yes, we are. We are hunted animals," observed the boy.
       But there's considerably more to all this. A novel written in the early 1970s, 1968 still hangs very much in the air here -- so too in how some of the public misread the situation on the ground:
     "They're Maoists ! They fired machine guns at cars over on the avenue."
       The Mad and the Bad is fast and furious, but although Manchette's exchanges and scenes whiz by extraordinarily quickly there's really a surprising amount of substance to them. It's cleverly done: yes, much can seem underdeveloped, or dealt with much too quickly, but Manchette subtly (and, occasionally, not so subtly) gets in so much along the way that it makes for a rich, dark, cynical portrait of French society, anno 1972. Even the cursory treatment of some of the characters in the summing-up -- they've played their role, and what becomes of them is beside the point, he seems to be saying -- is brutally effective.
       Rough and tough stuff, and almost, at first glance, too fast -- the great premise not sufficiently lingered over and fleshed out, as a contemporary American or British thriller would have, over hundreds of pages --, but an impressive and memorable little thriller.

- M.A.Orthofer, 7 July 2014

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The Mad and the Bad: Reviews: Jean-Patrick Manchette: Other books by Jean-Patrick Manchette under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       French author Jean-Patrick Manchette lived 1942 to 1995.

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© 2014-2023 the complete review

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