Remember how Miss Marple always used to find herself in the eye of the triple-murder-in-a-quaint-English-village storm, ingratiate herself into the local well-to-do-circles, work out everyone’s business, make a fool of the local constabulary by solving all the murders just with the power of her blue rinse, and then calmly saunter off to the church fête? Well, imagine if Miss Marple were 40 years younger, and an assassin-for-hire intent on uncovering the local elite’s dirty secrets and persuading them to pay her to dispose of anyone who might turn snitch and expose those dirty secrets. That’s what we’re dealing with in this gripping ‘noir’ novel. GANGSTA MARPLE.
We meet ‘Aimèe Joubert’ – the latest assumed identity of our protagonist – coming off of one assassin job, and visiting the small French town of Bleville to begin another, displaying the sort of work ethic that I imagine Tory MP Norman Tebbit referred to when he told people to get on their bike to find work in the 80s. I don’t want to give anything away about the plot, which involves dodgy business dealings, affairs, and a local baron who reminded me of a Frenchified Brian Blessed, but will instead quote Aimèe herself as she reflects on the fundamental weaknesses of human nature which make her schemes possible:
Well, it’s the same as ever, isn’t it? It seems slow, but actually it is quite fast. Sex always comes up first. Then money questions. And, then, last, come the old crimes. You have seen other towns, my sweet, and you’ll see others, knock on wood. Come on, my sweet, the crimes come last, and you have to be patient.
The terrific plot is overlaid with anti-capitalism, feminism (the way Aimèe deals with some street harassment is a particularly enjoyable example of this), and subtle humour (even in the last lines, after semi-ridiculous, Tarantino-style chaos has ensued). A significant epiphany for Aimèe provides some emotional depth.
My only disappointment was that Manchette featured this badass in just one novel. I wanted to know more about her backstory – I mean, what sort of career advice means you end up in a vocation like this, especially if you are a LADY! – and how this whole assassin-for-hire thug life thang panned out for her. In my wildest dreams Manchette would have traced this assassin’s career until she reached Miss Marple’s age, concluding with a story set in Hove where Aimèe, now known as Phyllis, uncovers a sex ring in her retirement home and bumps off Harry who threatens to expose Doris and the gang’s penchant for the unmentionable to the Daily Mail. Oh Manchette, pourquoi non? S’IL VOUS PLAIT!