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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

Skeletons in the Closet

Jean-Patrick Manchette

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To purchase Skeletons in the Closet

Title: Skeletons in the Closet
Author: Jean-Patrick Manchette
Genre: Novel
Written: 1976 (Eng. 2023)
Length: 168 pages
Original in: French
Availability: Skeletons in the Closet - US
Skeletons in the Closet - UK
Skeletons in the Closet - Canada
Que d'os ! - Canada
Que d'os ! - France
Knüppeldick - Deutschland
Piovono morti - Italia
Un montón de huesos - España
from: Bookshop.org (US)
directly from: New York Review Books
  • French title: Que d'os !
  • Translated by Alyson Waters
  • Que d'os ! was made into the film Pour la peau d'un flic in 1981, directed by and starring Alain Delon

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Our Assessment:

B : solid PI novel, if not quite top-form Manchette

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The NY Times Book Rev. . 19/11/2023 Sarah Weinman

  From the Reviews:
  • "Skeletons in the Closet, originally published in 1976 and newly translated by Alyson Waters, is up there with his brutal best. (...) Tarpon, as usual, realizes the only way out of a violent situation is by bulldozing through its messy, bloody center" - Sarah Weinman, The New York Times Book Review

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:

       Jean-Patrick Manchette introduced former cop turned private investigator Eugène Tarpon in No Room at the Morgue, and Skeletons in the Closet is another Tarpon-novel -- the only other one, as Manchette did not continue (t)his PI-series.
       Skeletons in the Closet begins with a referral, a police officer actually sending a case over to Tarpon. The officer notes: "I thought of you because it's an odd case", which might already be a good warning sign to Tarpon -- as is the officer's observation that what the client is asking: "is impossible"". The client -- Tarpon lets himself be talked into taking the case -- is Marthe Pigot, whose blind daughter, Philippine, has disappeared without a word, and she wants to find her.
       Business hasn't been good at the Tarpon Agency ("In truth, I'd hardly worked for five weeks"), but he is also already working on another case: a Mr.Jude who wants to know which of his employees has been stealing from him. The prime suspect is Albert Pérez, whom Tarpon tails, and who is clearly involved in something -- but maybe not mere petty office theft .....
       No sooner is he investigating the Philippine Pigot disappearance when someone comes to visit Tarpon, to convince him to drop his investigation, explaining that Philippine "didn't disappear. She split from home"; he even brings Tarpon a letter -- in braille, of course -- from the young woman. It sounds a bit iffy to Tarpon, and the scene that unfolds when Tarpon wants to call the police about the situation make clear that there's more going on here. And when Tarpon then heads to meet Madame Pigot it becomes really clear, as Skeletons in the Closet takes a sharp and very violent turn.
       Tarpon is suddenly a quite wanted man, and basically is on the run -- but that doesn't mean he gives up the chase. Part of the problem he faces, however, is that not only are there some bad guys after him but also, as one of the few people he can turn to tells him: "There isn't a single cop you can trust right now". He, too realizes, as things proceed:

It was obvious to me that I was fucked and I thought about the situation with a certain amused curiosity.
       A "pseudo-religious community", the Community of Reformed Skoptsy" figures in the story -- they have a good thing going, but Tarpon smells what they're up to very quickly -- and is the scene of the final showdown, where Tarpon gets painfully more than he could have wished for. As he notes about the plan to get to collapse the impressive house of cards:
It was an excellent plan; carrying out was the only problem.
       And Manchette does not make it easy for him.
       With so many people involved, in so many ways -- part of the story goes back to a Fanch Tanguy, a nasty piece of work who died during the Second World War, but where the mere mention of his name still brings an almost instant and very serious reaction -- Skeletons in the Closet is crowded, bad-guy and plot-wise, but the criminal activity Tarpon uncovers is solid enough. There is a lot of brutal violence, and Tarpon struggles to contend with it; indeed, when things come to a head, he's basically entirely (and very painfully) out of commission.
       Party of the appeal of Manchette's novels is his prose, though he has a bit more trouble than in most of his fiction finding the right ring to it here. Mostly fast and hard-boiled enough, it veers a bit awkwardly at times between the plain and the peculiarly overblown ("I was abulic. My tongue was as saturable as a dirty dishcloth and my forehead was sudating"); still, for the most part it carries along the story well enough.
       One can see why Manchette called it quits with Tarpon here, rather than continuing the series, as it feels like he never quite has a full grip on what he wants his PI, and his PI's stories, to be. Skeletons in the Closet is solid enough, but it's not top-flight Manchette.

- M.A.Orthofer, 2 December 2023

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Skeletons in the Closet: Reviews: Pour la peau d'un flic - the film: 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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© 2023 the complete review

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