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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

The Prone Gunman
(The Gunman)

Jean-Patrick Manchette

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To purchase The Gunman

Title: The Prone Gunman
Author: Jean-Patrick Manchette
Genre: Novel
Written: 1981 (Eng. 2002)
Length: 155 pages
Original in: French
Availability: The Gunman - US
The Gunman - UK
The Gunman - Canada
La position du tireur couché - Canada
The Prone Gunman - India
La position du tireur couché - France
Position: Anschlag liegend - Deutschland
Posizione di tiro - Italia
  • French title: La position du tireur couché
  • Translated by James Brook
  • The movie tie-in edition is titled simply: The Gunman
  • La position du tireur couché was filmed as The Gunman in 2015, directed by Pierre Morel and starring Idris Elba, Sean Penn, and Javier Bardem

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Our Assessment:

B : decent violent thriller of a hitman who wants out

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Boston Review . 4-5/2003 Jennifer Howard
The Guardian . 11/11/2006 Maxim Jakubowski
The Independent . 8/12/2006 Emma Hagestadt
New Statesman . 19/3/2015 Russell Williams
The NY Times Book Rev. . 17/11/2002 Marilyn Stasio
San Francisco Chronicle . 27/10/2002 Alan Kaufman
The Telegraph . 12/11/2006 Tony Saint
The Village Voice . 12/11/2002 Ben Ehrenreich

  From the Reviews:
  • "Despite his best efforts to the contrary, Manchette canít quite contain the humanity of Martin Terrier, the title character of The Prone Gunman. (...) More bullets fly, and bodies pile up to the point of absurdity. (...) An American noir writer might be tempted to turn these characters into existentially tragic figures, ennobled in extremis, but Manchette refuses every opportunity to do this." - Jennifer Howard, Boston Review

  • "This is lean noir writing, both muscular and economical, and when the violence inevitably erupts, it does so with shocking effect." - Maxim Jakubowski, The Guardian

  • "In a violent policier devoid of seasonal cheer, French crime-writer Jean-Patrick Manchette, who died in 1995, turns pulp fiction into art." - Emma Hagestadt, The Independent

  • "The Gunman is just as brutal and similarly politically and morally engaged. (...) Again, Manchette showcases the noxious influence of cash." - Russell Williams, New Statesman

  • "There's not a superfluous word or overdone effect in The Prone Gunman, one of the last cool; compact and shockingly original crime novels that Jean-Patrick Manchette left as his legacy to modern noir fiction when he died in 1995. Its austerity of form heightened by James Brook's lean translation from the French, this stark account of a man's professional decline and mental deterioration is all the more chilling for being the story of a hired killer." - Marilyn Stasio, The New York Times Book Review

  • "Many of today's U.S. writers, somnambulating through our terrifying times, writing cream-puff fiction, could do worse then douse themselves in Manchette's sharp, cinematographic prose and politically astute plots. (...) You get the idea. Manchette's keen comic wit takes no hostages, but what makes him unique is his deft manipulation of narrative focus" - Alan Kaufman, San Francisco Chronicle

  • "Some clunky translation aside, this is a stylish and uncompromising noir with a whiff of Gallic existentialism to complete the amorality." - Tony Saint, The Telegraph

  • "If The Prone Gunman is a brutal book, it's not just the violence that makes it so, though there are bits of brains all over, thoracic cages blown bare of flesh, intestines that empty noisily as bullets pierce their owners. The deeper brutality is one of tone and vision, of a conquered world bereft of choice and hope." - Ben Ehrenreich, The Village Voice

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 Prone Gunman is the story of Martin Terrier, also known as Christian, a professional hitman who went into the business with a ten-year plan and now wants to get out. He dumps the girl, has given notice on his apartment, sold his car and bought a new one. He wants out -- but his employers aren't thrilled to hear it. They want to tempt him with another job (with a big payday); when that doesn't convince him they sic the vengeful family of one of his victims on him, to put a little scare in him and get him back in line (and prone).
       Terrier's ten-year-plan included his teenage love, whom he asked to wait for him for ten years -- which didn't quite work out. Still, her husband is fairly welcoming and Terrier gets to make his play for her.
       Terrier also has a financial adviser handling his money, helping him build up his nest-egg -- a financial planner who admits, "I don't inspire confidence" (because he looks so seedy), but claims the reason he looks so seedy is because all he does is take care of money, obsessively. Naturally, it turns out that looks aren't quite that deceiving, and Terrier is suddenly back near square one as far as financing the rest of his life. So he takes up the offer his former employer made, for one last big job.
       The emphasis is on last, all around -- Terrier can see he's being set-up, so he's somewhat prepared, but it's hard to stay a step ahead of everything that's lined up for him.
       Bad things happen from the time Terrier wants to give up his job. The girlfriend he dumped does not fare well. Never mind the cat. Nor pretty much anyone else he comes in contact with, save his long-lost love, Anne.
       Terrier gets off pretty easy, for a while -- they need him after all. Still, it does all get to him. He can't perform with Anne -- "'On the blink,' she had said,. 'Impotent. Go freeze them off, then.'" -- and eventually finds himself mute, reduced to communicating by writing (rather inconvenient when he has a hostage or finds himself in some other hair-raising situation).
       The prone gunman survives, but by the end he's a shell of his former self, his dream shattered like everything else around him. Manchette's non-stop, blood-spattering (among much else -- at one point: "Organic debris flew in several directions and splattered against the walls and windows") story of inescapable fate roars through a few too many unlikely turns along the way; still, at its best, the pithy dialogue and multiple betrayals make for lively read. And there are, as always with Manchette, the enjoyable short riffs in other directions, including Anne's husband trying to make conversation (speak putting Terrier in his place):

     "What do you think of Régis Debray's position on the media and intellectuals ?" asked Félix, giving Terrier a mean look. "What do you think of the new French crime novel ? And do you think that jazz can still progress ? Personally, I have my doubts when I see Archie Schepp practically return to bebop if not Ben Webster, or when I see a guy like Anthony Braxton hailing Lee Konitz
       It feels a bit lazy, and piles on a bit too much; still, in it's own bloody and very tortured way, The Prone Gunman is nice little lone hitman story.

- M.A.Orthofer, 15 June 2010

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The Prone Gunman: Reviews: The Gunman - the film: 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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© 2010-2023 the complete review

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