Eugène Tarpon

Created by Jean-Patrick Manchette
(1942-1995)

EUGÈNE TARPON is a real, honest-to-goodness, hard-boiled Parisian private eye, who appeared in two novels by the legendary French noirista, Jean-Patrick Manchette, as well as  a couple of films.

Tarpon’s right out of the pages of the American detective pulps of the thirties and forties, but painted black. When we first meet him, in Morgue pleine (1973), he’s a bitter, hard-drinking ex-cop, still brooding about being kicked off the force for “accidentally” killing a political demonstrator. But his new detective agency isn’t exactly setting the world on fire–he’s living alone in a dump of an apartment, which also serves as his office, on the fifth floor of a building without an elevator, in the Les Halles district, right near rue Saint-Martin, and he’s seriously contemplating moving back in with his mother. Customers aren’t exactly banging on the door.

Maybe it’s the five flights of stairs?

Or maybe it’s because Tarpon and his world aren’t particularly likable. “A landscape so invariably gray…” is how The Paris Review puts it, and that about nails it. Everything in Tarpon’s world, it seems, is shabby. Or broken. Or Both.

And yet, and yet, and yet… Unlike much of Manchette’s work–bleak, noirish standalones about assassins, mercenaries, psychopaths, serial killers and unlikable people who get in their way, the Tarpon books have a darkly humorous and engaging snap to them, relayed to us via the detective’s cynical, bitter first-person narration, sort of like Hammett’s Continental Op.

But on a really, really bad day…

The Tarpon books were Manchette’s attempt to create a private eye, but unfortunately he only managed one more book, Que d’os ! (1976) that, as far as I can tell, hasn’t been translated into English (yet). Naturally, both books were published initially as part of Gallimard’s Serie noir.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Jean-Patrick Manchette was one of the most important of the French hard-boiled crime writers. He wrote for television, film and bande dessinées. But his biggest influence has been in literature. He’s considered the founder of the Neo-Polar movement which brought a new, politically-tinged focus to French hard-boiled crime scene in the late sixties. According to Renaud Bombard, of Presses de la Cite, “He restarted the French crime novel with books that were highly inspired by the great American noir writers. He showed that we could use the French sociohistorical reality to write very dynamic and shocking crime novels.”

He’s also created, along with writer/cartoonistJacques Tardi, bande dessinée private eye-like  Griffu.

UNDER OATH

  • “No Room at the Morgue is, then, a story that begins with Marx and ends in Freud, stopping along the way at Wilhelm Reich. In some sense the novel is an omnium-gatherum, a cabinet of wonders containing all of Manchette’s favored objects: a broke, alienated protagonist with a great future behind him; men at the very end of their tether; women in dissociation and distress; a supporting cast of radicals, terrorists, antiterrorists, libertines, mobsters—isolatoes all!—whose mental state could at best be called fragile. All of them driving around the high-numbered arrondissements in beater Peugeots and Simcas that, like their drivers, could at any moment be taking their last breaths.”
    — Howard A. Rodman (August 2020, The Paris Review)
  • “Manchette plays this story for ironic humor, which might distress the many fans who know him for the symphonic sessions of assassination and gunplay in such masterpieces as The Prone Gunman and The Mad and the Bad. But even a lesser Manchette remains essential reading.”
    — Publishers Weekly

NOVELS

FILMS

  • POUR LA PEAU D’UN FLIC Watch it now!
    (aka “To Kill a Cop,” “For a Cop’s Hide,” “Whirlpool”)
    (1981, Adel Productions)
    Based on the novel Que d’os! by Jean-Patrick Manchette
    Screenplay by Alain Delon and Christopher Frank
    Directed by Alain Delon
    Original Music by Oscar Benton
    Non-Original Music by Sidney Bechet
    Starring Alain Delon as CHOUCAS (Tarpon)
    Also starring Michel Auclair, Anne Parillaud, Daniel Ceccaldi, Jean-Pierre Darras, Xavier Depraz, Jacques Rispal, Gérard Hérold, Pierre Belot
    Popular French actor Delon’s directorial debut, very loosely based on Manchette’s novel. Delon plays Choucas, an associate of Tarpon’s.
  • POLAR
    (1984, Les Films Noirs/France 3)
    97 minutes
    Filmed in black & white
    Based on the novel Morgue pleine by Jean-Patrick Manchette
    Adaptation by Jacques Bral
    Screenplay by Jean-Paul Leca and Julien Lévi
    Directed by Jacques Bral
    Starring Jean-François Balmer as EUGÈNE TARPON
    Also starring Sandra Montaigu, Pierre Santini, Roland Dubillard, Claude Chabrol, Jean-Paul Bonnaire, Marc Dudicourt, Gérard Hérold, Jean-Marie Lemaire, Gérard Loussine
    Supposedly interesting French neo-noir, filmed in black and white, and more faithful to the source material than Pour la peau d’un flic. One of the film’s posters even played up on the book having been published by Serie noir.
Respectfully submitted by Kevin Burton Smith, with a big merci to Marcel Bernadac for the lead.

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