The Eye

Created by Marc Behm

An unnamed private detective, known only as “THE EYE,” is the aging, lonely hero of Eye of the Beholder (1983), one of those peculiar books written in the genre but not of the genre, if you know what I mean. Hired to tail a young newlywed on her honeymoon, The Eye witnesses her murder of her new husband, and is soon obsessed with her. Could she be his long-lost daughter?

His obsession, which even he can’t quite explain, seems to know no bounds, and as the novel unwinds, The Eye shadows her around the world over a span of several years, never approaching her directly, as she works her way through a string of husbands, and the body count climbs.

As the author, Marc Behm says, in the introduction to the Black Box Edition of Behm’s three novels, “It’s the story of God in disguise as a Private Eye, searching for his daughter: a quest for grace.”

Fair enough, I thought (although this does raise the possibility of some Hotel Dick spotting a weird looking guy sitting in the lobby reading a paper with two eye holes in it and asking someone like Sam Spade, à la The Maltese Falcon, “Who’s the punk?” to which Spade replys “It’s just God, on a job” ).

Anyway, amongst many other things, it does raise the question of The Eye as an ‘eye’ (ie: just what is it we actually ‘see’ when we see something) – as in “you don’t see things the way they are but the way you are.” Or, to put it another way, just how do men see women in this hard-boiled genre. If questions like this don’t concern you, then don’t worry, because I suspect you’ll enjoy the book anyway despite it being the longest tailing job ever written.

An edgy, unsettling novel which seems to evoke strong reaction among any who’ve read it, it’s one of those books you either love or hate. Newgate Callendar in The New York Times Book Review called it “One of the most remarkable combinations of a private-eye novel and psychological suspense story, with an entirely new slant, that has ever been published,” and critics in France hailed Behn as a major new writer.

MORTELLE RANDONNÈE (1983)

Such was the acclaim in France for the novel that it was soon adapted as a film, 1983’s Mortelle Randonnèe, directed by Claude Miller, and starring a young Isabelle Adjani. Ironic, since the book started out as a film script for American film producer Philip Yordan, but when that project fell through, it became a novel. In many ways it still reads like a ‘book of the film,’ although there are a few surprising laughs that seem to have snuck onto the film.

THE EYE (2000)

A new film version, this time in English, featuring Ewan McGregor (Trainspotting, etc) as The Eye and Ashley Judd as the woman, was released in 2000. It was even filmed in my hometown, with Montreal substituting for about a dozen cities around the world and a slew of Canadians rounding out the cast, and directed with tons of style by Stephan Elliot (The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert). Although it received mixed reviews, it certainly is an impressive-looking bit of film.

But then, there always has been a film-like quality to the novel–after all, Marc Behm was a scriptwriter before he turned to writing fiction, working on the classic 1960s flicks Charade (starring Cary Grant and Audrey Hepburn) and Help! (featuring–who else?–the Beatles). Behm currently lives as an expatriate writer in France, and continues to produce distinctive crime-related novels that–unfortunately–mostly remain unpublished in the U.S. In fact, Eye of the Beholder was out-of-print for many years until it was finally reprinted as a tie-in with the 2000 film.

On a final point, Behm said, in response to the critical acclaim that followed the book and labelled him the new Hammett etc, “I’ve read my share of contemporary thriller writers and I still find that Graham Greene is the master of us all. I find Chandler rather boring and Hammett, although nice to read, belonged to a school of writing I find tiresome.”

Sacrilege! J’accuse!

UNDER OATH

  • “The best PI novel ever written…..a roller-coaster ride that combines poignancy and metaphysical anguish: a book that stands alone in the field like an unpolished diamond.”
    — Maxim Jakubowski
  • “One of the most remarkable combinations of a private-eye novel and psychological suspense story, with an entirely new slant, that has ever been published.”
    — The New York Times Book Review
  • “A pivotal work in the history of mystery fiction.”
    — The Guardian

NOVELS

FILMS

  • MORTELLE RANDONNÈE | Buy this DVD
    (1983; in French)
    Based on the novel Eye of the Beholder by Marc Behm
    Directed by Claude Miller
    Starring Michel Serrault as THE EYE
    Also starring Isabelle Adjani, Guy Marchand, Stéphane Audran, Macha Méril, Geneviève Page, Sami Frey, Dominique Frot, Patrick Bouchitey, Isabelle Ho, François Bernheim, Gilberte Lauvray, Michel Such, Jean-Claude Brialy.
  • EYE OF THE BEHOLDER Buy this video | Buy this DVD Watch it now!
    (2000, Seville Pictures)
    Based on the novel by Marc Behm
    Screenplay by Stephan Elliot
    Directed by Stephen Elliot
    Starring Ewan McGregor as THE EYE
    Also starring Ashley Judd, Patrick Bergin, k.d. lang, Jason Priestley, Genevieve Bujold
    Filmed in Montreal
    Producers: Nicholas Clermont, Tony Smith
    Co-producer: Al Clark
    Executive producers: Hilary Shor, Mark Damon
    John Griffin, film critic for The Montreal Gazette, called it “a super stylish, designed-to-the gills thriller…a techno-psycho-road-movie-surreal-serial-killer-romantic thriller that looks and sounds so good you might not mind it’s all over the narrative map.”

RELATED LINKS

  • One and Done
    Some Great Private Eyes Who’ve Appeared in Only One Novel
Contributed by Peter Walker, with a few little bits about the 2000 film added by Kevin Burton Smith. And thanks to Nico for the heads up.

One thought on “The Eye

  1. I know Maxim (typo alert: Jakubowski, not Jakubowsk) has been a great champion of this novel over the years, ushering the Black Box edition into print and I think another, a few years before or after. I love with a great passion both movie adaptations in their different ways, and I’ve had the book on the pile for a while awaiting a reread. I’m not sure I’d go the whole hog with Maxim and describe it as “the best PI novel ever written,” but it’s certainly a pretty special one-of-a-kind. Thanks for flying the flag for it here!

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