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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

No Room at the Morgue

Jean-Patrick Manchette

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To purchase No Room at the Morgue

Title: No Room at the Morgue
Author: Jean-Patrick Manchette
Genre: Novel
Written: 1973 (Eng. 2020)
Length: 188 pages
Original in: French
Availability: No Room at the Morgue - US
No Room at the Morgue - UK
No Room at the Morgue - Canada
Morgue pleine - Canada
Morgue pleine - France
Volles Leichenhaus - Deutschland
Un mucchio di cadaveri - Italia
La morgue está llena - España
  • French title: Morgue pleine
  • Translated by Alyson Waters
  • With an Afterword by Howard A. Rodman

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Our Assessment:

B+ : basic P.I. novel, but with the Manchette touch

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Publishers Weekly . 15/5/2020 .

  From the Reviews:
  • "Manchette plays this story for ironic humor, which might distress the many fans who know him for the symphonic sessions of assassination and gunplay in such masterpieces as The Prone Gunman and The Mad and the Bad. But even a lesser Manchette remains essential reading." - 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:

       Almost all of Jean-Patrick Manchette novel's are hard, fast stand-alones, with carnage to a brutal, dark end, but No Room at the Morgue is a stab at something slightly different. It introduces Eugène Tarpon, a policeman who pretty much lost it, professionally and personally, when he: "killed a kid, who was merely throwing paving stones, with a grenade to his face" at a protest in the line of duty; even now: "everyone knew that in Saint-Brieuc ...". His name, face, and story are familiar to most of those he encounters, with the dark shadow of the guilt he feels accompanying him, his cross to bear, lugged through the entire novel.
       After leaving the police Tarpon set up as a private investigator -- and No Room at the Morgue is Manchette's foray into trying to start his own PI-series, with the same protagonist; perhaps predictably, he only managed one more installment, Que d'os ! (1976; now translated into English as Skeletons in the Closet).
       Running the business out of his apartment, Tarpon's attempts at coming across like a professional are little more than half-hearted; he has his business card -- yellowing, with its edges curling in -- tacked to the door of his fifth-floor walk-up, but doesn't even have a nameplate at the building entrance ("But why bother ? Today everyone telephones first"). He has been at it for less than year, but he has not been successful as a P.I., and he's close to the breaking point, his money running out -- and a lot due in a month and a half. A possible lifeline -- a former colleague who is now in the private security business offers him a job -- is a compromise too far for him, so basically he's set to pack it all in and head back to mom's house in the countryside. He packs his bags and makes the necessary arrangements -- not that there's much to do -- , and sets his sights on a 7:50 AM train the next day, getting nicely plastered as the day progresses.
       He can't make good his escape quite that easily. First, the doorbell rings: a potential client asking for help -- but Tarpon just can't deal with it. Then, at midnight, the doorbell rings again, and this time the person who shows up at his doorstep is considerably more insistent. An attractive young woman is turning to him in her desperation: she came home to find her roommate Griselda's throat slit and she hasn't gone to the police because she knows it doesn't look good:

They're going to lock me up. I'm the perfect fall girl. My fingerprints are everywhere, even on the knife that belongs to me, and I got blood all over me.
       On top of it, she admits: "I even have a motive".
       To Tarpon the case is clear: she has to go to the police. It's not what she wants to hear and so she ... does without his services for the time being.
       The girl told Tarpon they had met before -- that's how she knew he was a P.I. now -- but he doesn't remember her. Tarpon figures it out -- her name, at least the one she uses, is Memphis Charles; she's a stuntwoman (while victim Griselda Zapata (actually: Louise Sergent) was an actress). He heads to her apartment and finds the police on the scene -- who of course are curious what brings him there. When they send him on his way he's picked up by a former journalist, Jean-Baptiste Haymann -- retired, but so bored that he still goes through the old motions and hunts around for scoops when he can't sleep. Tarpon has his doubts about this character but checks up on him and finds him to be a useful assistant of sorts -- and Haymann even acts as go-between, getting Griselda/Louise's brother, Gérard, to hire Tarpon to find his sister's killer -- finally, a job the P.I. actually accepts.
       Things heat up fast and get way out of hand. Memphis Charles may be innocent of murder -- emphasis on may -- but she's certainly involved with some problematic characters -- and they, and more, appear on the scene(s). Tarpon is reunited with her, and the bodies start piling up. After they escape from one encounter he again suggest she go to the police, but then they decide she'll lay low in a hotel for a few days while he sniffs around some more. Needless to say, things get messier still before they get straightened out.
       Everyone's looking for the killer -- and a lot of them think that either that's Memphis Charles or that at least she's the key to finding whoever it actually is, so everyone is out to get her. So also then Tarpon is offered the chance to sell her out for some serious money by one particularly keen hunter -- who notes:
I'm looking for someone so I can destroy him. I'm prepared to destroy several people if necessary. You don't amuse me. Your existence is merely a burden to me.
       The pieces ultimately fall nicely and quickly into place. This being the first volume in an intended series, Manchette had to tread somewhat carefully with how Tarpon comes out of all this -- and, while there are a few lingering regrets, at least he's better off than he was when the story opened, with some decent publicity maybe even giving his P.I. career the necessary boost. He even goes so far as to sum up: "Life was, in a way, beautiful" -- though readers surely suspect that that feeling will only last so long, before he takes on the next case .....
       Tarpon is a solid protagonist for this kind of thing -- though notably not entirely hard-boiled, as Manchette allows him some vulnerabilities. A policeman describes him as: "a man broken by alcohol and regrets", and certainly the story begins with him so far down and out that he seems pretty much beyond hope and redemption, but Manchette gets him slowly, steadily, professionally hooked by the case (and then, of course, finding himself all tied up in the middle of it with little option but to continue, full bore ahead).
       In many ways, No Room at the Morgue is pretty standard hardboiled PI fare, but Manchette layers on social and political elements too, in one case making for a rather far-fetched (if action-packed) detour -- which he gets away with because he does this sort of thing (more familiar from his other work) very well. And his writing is sharp as always, with perfect little bits such as the well-placed: "I tried to relight my cigarette and realized it hadn't gone out".
       Manchette's stand-alones pack a little more of that raw power -- him giving it all he's got, willing to bring the story to an absolute end -- as he holds off a bit here, because he wants to continue the story with the next installment in this Tarpon-series, but it's still a mighty fine and pretty wild ride.

- M.A.Orthofer, 7 August 2020

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No Room at the Morgue: 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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© 2020-2023 the complete review

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