Jean-Patrick Manchette, or simply J-P Manchette as he’s known to millions of French readers, is one of the crime genre’s undeniable masters, having merged Francophile sensibilities with the hard edged line that exists between the upper and lower castes of society. Run Like Crazy Run Like Hell, incidentally, is both Manchette’s third literary novel and the third, unrelated, graphic novel adaptation by renowned French cartoonist Jacques Tardi (Putain de Guerre! / Goddamn This War) of Manchette’s work.
Manchette, who passed away in 1995, never lived to see any of Tardi’s excellent graphic novel adaptations of his work, though the two had collaborated in 1978 to create Griffu (i.e. Griffu – The Thrilling Detective). Tardi’s own works have a pace and flow uniquely their own, one that matches well with Manchette’s pulpy narratives, and have become a favorite for filmmakers like Luc Besson, who adapted Tardi’s The Extraordinary Adventures of Adèle Blanc-Sec into live-action in 2010.
There was a special bond between the two artists, a sustaining one I encourage anyone interested in any of their individual works to explore in more detail for themselves. It’s worth the research – trust me.
Given their origins, most western readers are probably familiar with Manchette’s work through previous adaptations by Tardi, including West Coast Blues (Le Petit Bleu de la Côte Ouest) and Like a Sniper Lining Up His Shot (La Position du Tireur Couché), both also available through Fantagraphics. Chronologically, the original Run Like Crazy Run Like Hell (O dingos, O chateaux!), released in 1972, makes this the earliest of Manchette’s work yet adapted by Tardi.
Michael Hartog, a rich and successful soap magnate, has come to a local asylum to claim Julie Ballanger, a mysterious British ex-pat with a criminal past and a persistent distrust of the police. “It’s not an asylum,” she tells him. “It’s a free institution. I could leave whenever I wanted.” She’s been hired to watch over Peter, Michael’s seven-year old nephew, a strange position considering her own questionable background. What could be going on here, she wonders?
As they enter an underground parking lot Michael is attacked by a mysterious man, pummeling him to the ground and cracking his ribs. Julie grabs Michael’s gun, threatening to kill the mystery man if he lays another hand on Michael. Laughing, the man swats the gun away, pointing out that the safety isn’t even off. Michael dismisses the idea of calling the police, and Julie soon learns that the creep is Fuentés, a “bitter man, a failure” who also happened to be Michael’s old partner.
There’s more to her new boss than Julie first thought. Before inheriting his substantial fortune – and becoming tutor (guardian) to his young nephew Peter – both Michael and Fuentés, the man who attacked him earlier, worked as architects, unsuccessful ones at that. That Julie is fresh from an asylum wouldn’t matter at all. Michael also has a taste for the troubled, hiring only the disabled and handicapped; cripples, says André the driver.
Peter is completely spoiled, incorrigibly so, smashing his television when Julie demand that he get to bed. It doesn’t help matters when, the very next day, a replacement set is delivered to the house. Julie insists on Peter that his new TV-set is his uncle’s way of giving him a hug goodbye. “Whatever I break, it gets replaced” he tells her.
Determined to do well by her new employer and charge, Julie takes Peter on an outing to the park. It’s not long after they find themselves threatened and kidnapped by armed gunmen, then taken to a remote house in the woods outside Paris. Here they meet Thompson, the hitman readers previously met on page one putting his unique set of skills with a hacksaw to use against a pedophile, here with rifle in hand and waiting on the two’s arrival.
He instructs Julie to sign a letter, one typed on the very Herme’s Baby typewriter that was stolen from her room earlier by the TV delivery man, one written in deranged and incoherent language confessing her role in kidnapping Peter and demanding a ransom in exchange for his life. At first she resists, only to acquiesce once Thompson threatens to rip Peter’s hair from his scalp.
It’s here that I must be careful in revealing too much more, in fear of spoiling both the plot and tension of what follows. Needless to say, Julie and Peter manage to escape Thompson’s little cabin and the trio of kidnappers give chase. What follows is a tense and often violent chase as Julie and Peter evade their captors – and the police – to somehow make it back to Micheal safely.
One thing kept gnawing at me: Thompson, the professional hitman whom we first met on page one, seems so incompetent I’m at a loss where his oft remarked reputation came from. His mistakes throughout the hunt are numerous, bordering on amateur. Of course, he appears to be suffering from some internal wreckage, and is of advanced age, which might account for some of his rookie mistakes. We know that he’s a crazed, vicious man, and see several examples of this all throughout the book, especially his growing taste for killing and devouring small animals raw.
The English translation by Doug Headline has the inevitable task of translating a translation, and Headline does his best to work the unfamiliar idiosyncrasies and flow of the original French into the rhythms of readable English. He mostly succeeds, though things are best when Tardi’s art and quick-paced action overcome some of the story’s lapses into predictability, including a plot twist that even newcomers can see coming miles and miles away – one that may have been genuinely surprising to readers back in 1972.
What a shame that such pleasures of surprise have become casualties in our overstimulated world. To be fair, it’s not such a twist if you factor in how Tardi presents Thompson’s “new client” right there on page two. Perhaps a bit more ‘shadowing’ in the foreshadowing would have made this a better-kept secret.
The second half really speeds up the story and pacing, both visually and aggressively, a change which often results in scenes and imagery of shocking violence and explicit gore. One can’t help but feel that certain story elements from the original novel were omitted for pacing, including one scene involving “some scandal at an evangelical meeting”, which gets two mentions but is never shown.
Run Like Crazy Run Like Hell is a fine introduction to the works of both Tardi (the cartoonist) and Manchette (the novelist), though it feels as if sacrifices were made by the former in adapting the latter. No biggie, considering what’s left still has the immediacy and tense back-breaking sense of dread and revulsion that should be familiar to Manchette fans. For Tardi fans, here’s yet another example that the old master has lost little – if any – of his trademark flair for crafting deep, thrilling, and often violent entertainment.