Re: Alain Demouzon (was Re: RARA-AVIS: Re: Jean-Patrick Manchette)

From: Xavier Lechard (
Date: 10 Jul 2004

E. Borgers wrote:

> Demouzon is quite good in some of his novels but he's not of the same
> league as Manchette, and certainly not as innovative in the French noir
> genre.

Quite true - but what you regard as weaknesses are right what I consider to be his main virtues.

> I can understand that somebody is not liking Manchette's work for
> personal reasons, but putting him aside because he created a kind of
> vacuum in the French mystery scene is pure fiction... or playing riddles.

I am not playing riddles, just telling a fact that you are of course free to dismiss as "pure fiction". Manchette may not have created "a kind of vacuum", but his works and theories indeed helped to establish new standards for French crime fiction that led to a relative yet significant marginalization of formerly flourishing subgenres like suspense or whodunit. Noir had always been a major force in the French mystery scene, but Manchette and the NeoPolar gang made it the dominant one.

> Some French authors tried to mimic Manchette, but without any genius nor
> real success. Manchette's influence was more in the way to approach the
> genesis of a novel, and its purpose, as a writer. And also to pay
> more attention to style and construction of a mystery novel. In that
> sense he was influential. Also in the way to treat subjects that were
> connected to the French reality of the 70s and 80s (but here he was not
> the only promoter of this kind of views).

The latter point is the most controversial to me. One of the reasons why I read so little *modern* French mysteries is that I'm tired of being told about poverty, suburbs, globalization, racism, fascism and the ilk when I'm only looking for a good story with good characters. Manchette is at least partly responsible for that "social awakening" of French crime fiction. As to his influence on formal grounds, it is undeniable but led authors to take themselves for artists and break with conventions and popular roots of the genre.

> Be assured that beside the noir/HB branch of mysteries in France there
> are still many writers handling the other subgenres of the mystery
> novel, from cozies to thrillers, historical mysteries, gorish... just
> name them. The problem is that top quality is not always found in the
> works of these writers, even if the average quality is higher since the
> last 20 years.

The problem is, above all, that Noir/Hardboiled is largely dominant in the French mystery scene. Fanzines, critics, websites and awards focuse more or less exclusively on that genre. Same goes for publishers - even cozy bastion Le Masque changes its way and open its doors to Boston Teran or Val McDermid - and mainstream press and media: I still fondly remember a special issue of Magazine Litt鲡ire allegedly devoted to mystery fiction that still managed to be mostly, if not only, about noir. So maybe the "many" non-noir French mystery writers are not always top-notch, but they have great merit for not giving up while living in a milieu that at best ignores them.

> And in the modern French noir/HB itself there is enough diversity as
> well, with voices so different that it is difficult to link them one to
> another (humor, derision, surrealism, procedural, small thugs saga,
> social realism, political pamphlet ... the list is long).

Yes, but as Billy Joel would say, "it's still noir/hardboiled to me"...

> The recent biggest French mysteries sales in France are from French
> authors having nothing in common with Manchette and mostly outside the
> noir/HB genre. So ...

So what? Sales prove nothing. The biggest mystery writer in terms of sales in France is Mary Higgins Clark. Her French competitors, Jean-Christophe Grang頡nd Fred Vargas, indeed are not in the Manchette tradition but nevertheless are not representative. Vargas for some reason enjoys both commercial and critical success, but Grang頩s not well-ranked in the fandom.

> Back to Demouzon, a prolific writer when compared to Manchette, the
> novel I liked the best was: DERNIERE STATION AVANT JERUSALEM (1994) (=
> Last stop before Jerusalem); problem with him is that he touched many
> different genres of the noir/HB field in well written novels but without
> real innovation.

Once again, you dismiss as weaknesses things I regard as virtues.

> To be noted that he also wrote novels for the mainstream general

Alike a lot recent French crime writers: Georges-Jean Arnaud, Paul Couturiau, Tonino Benacquista, Michel Quint...

Xavier Lechard

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