Marc Behm - in many ways, a silly and in parts disturbing novel. But there's an epic grandeur to it too, and for all the senseless slaughter, the deaths are almost classical, even in being almost merely incidental.

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Marc Behm, Eye of the Beholder, Arcadia Books; New ed., 2017.

The Eye of the Beholder is a cult classic that inspired both French and English film adaptations.
Joanna Eris has a bad habit of marrying men that wind up dead. An unnamed private detective, known simply as ‘The Eye’ is hired to investigate the death of her husband.
The novel charts the development of the detective’s dangerous obsession with a femme fatale, as he pursues her across the united states.

‘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

 The Eye of the Beholder is a quite ridiculous story, an extreme voyeur, stalker, and killer tale; to say it strains credulity would be putting it mildly. And yet, in its aspirations to the epic and its level of commitment, on the part of both author and characters, it does sweep the reader along.
       The Eye of the Beholder follows a character known only as 'the Eye' as he becomes obsessed with and follows Joanna Eris, a true femme fatale (with an emphasis on the 'fatal' for those she sets her sights on). The two repeatedly criss-cross America, for more than a decade, the Eye less hunter than shadow, always lurking near.
       The Eye is a private investigator for Watchmen, Inc. when he first encounters Joanna -- then going under the name Lucy Brentano. The wealthy parents of recent college graduate Paul Hugo are worried about this girl their wayward-tending son has gotten involved with, and the Eye is put on the case. No sooner does he start tailing the young lovebirds than he finds them finding their way to city hall, getting hitched. The Eye follows them on their honeymoon getaway -- and, as much peeping tom as investigator, watches the new bride very calmly kill her husband, dispose of his body, and then get a good night's sleep.
       The Eye follows her home, to her hotel in New York, where the house dick tells him her name is Eve Granger. As the Eye soon figures out: she has a lot of aliases, and a lot of wigs. And before the day is out, she has her hooks in her next victim -- and is playing bride again, as Josephine Brunswick:
     She killed a man last night and robbed him of eighteen thousand dollars. She was going to kill again tonight for twenty thousand.
       She isn't exactly a black widow -- she doesn't look to inherit. She's in it for the quick score.
       The Eye is transfixed. When she buries the second man, he's concerned about the shallowness of the grave she dug. No one will be looking for the supposed honeymooners for a while, but:
The freshly turned earth was a giveaway. And rats or foxes might uncover it. He took the shovel from the carport. He dug up the body, hauled it into the woods. He dug up another hole in a patch of ferns. He reburied it, refilled the hole, came back to the clearing just as she climbed out of the tub.
       He should, of course, alert the police, and his employers. He should turn her in. Instead, he becomes a watcher, and occasional guardian angel, unseen in the shadows.
       Both the Eye and the woman carry a great melancholy sadness in them. One that has numbed them, and completely controls and defines them. The Eye has a daughter, Maggie, but his wife abandoned him with her when she was just one; he's never seen them since, and for all his investigative skill has never been able to track them down. When she was eight, the Eye's mother sent him a picture of: "fifteen little girls sitting at tables in a classroom" -- without telling him which one was Maggie. He still carries the picture with hiim, and studies it constantly. Trying to figure out which one might have been his daughter, and imagining what might have become of her. Meanwhile, Joanna lost her father when she was young, at Christmas, and had a difficult childhood .....
       Of course, Joanna is about Maggie's age, and the Eye can see his daughter in this homicidal maniac; he can't help himself, and so, with a delicate parental touch, he keeps careful close watch over her. And, like her, he's otherwise completely detached: her killings don't move either of them, for example, barely even registering; their only concern is that she not get caught.
       The Eye figures out her true identity, and looks into her past. He finds one person Joanna was close to; the difficult circumstances of the time might explain some of the grimness, but obviously aspects of it were fundamental to Joanna:
I'd bring a bottle of cognac. We'd get undressed and get drunk. We'd dance. We'd sit on the floor and talk. Or play chess. I forgot o tell you, I taught her how to play chess, or tried to. It was a dismal failure. Then we'd make love. Only it was more like despair than love. Desolation. Another form of insanity and suicide.
       The Eye follows Joanna -- panicking when he loses track, but then picking up the trail again. He gets to know her better -- not personally, not ever personally; he's practically invisible to her, even when their lives brush against each other -- but by watching. Her habits. What she reads. Who she's killed -- "Seven of them he's sure of. Four husbands" is an early tally.
       The Eye is given a surprisingly long leash by his employer, who think he's still on the original case (as, indeed, he sort of is); it's a while before they actually fire him. He has saving to last him three years, he figures; as it turns out he keeps going considerably longer, adding to his savings where needed much like Joanna does: through gambling and robbery (though he's not a killer). His obsession -- a twin obsession: the lost daughter he sees: "wherever he looked" and murderous Joanna -- consumes his life. It is his life
       There are periods of calm, and others of frenzied activity:
One busy afternoon on Route 68, between Campbellsville and Edmondton, she hit four men in a row. Only two of her victims died.
       Sometimes there's a rush of movement; other times she stays put for a while. Once, there even seems to be the possibility of things turning around, of Joanna marrying a man and actually settling down. Unsurprisingly, the man is blind. Unsurprisingly, the fates don't permit it.
       Another relationship also comes to a violent end, and Joanna doesn't take it well: "She killed seven men that night".
       And everywhere she goes, everything she does, the Eye follows, in the shadows.
       Time passes:
     Five long years passed; five Christmases and five birthdays. And nine more men ... no, ten, eleven ... the Eye tried to remember.
     Ten or eleven.
     She married three of them.

       Of course, the authorities are after her. They're onto her -- but always several aliases and cities behind. But they're working away:
They came after her slowly and massively, like a moving glacier. But they couldn't overtake her. Although she blazed a trail, she never stopped fleeing. And because she had no direction, they were unable to intercept her.
       They're not the only ones, either. A few men whose path she has crossed continue to sniff around and occasionally appear.
       Eventually, Joanna seems to tire of her rampaging ways. She takes regular jobs, though she remains repeatedly on the run. Eventually she tries to settle down in a more humdrum life. And the Eye thinks maybe he can salvage something. But the fates, the fates .....
       Part of what makes this ridiculous story work is that Behm presents his two main characters as epic figures. The rough edges of realism keep the appearances of a hardboiled real-life tale, but the Eye (!) and constantly-(superficial-)identity-shifting Joanna are otherworldly, larger than life.
       The basic premises alone are absurd, from how easily Joanna gets away with murder -- she often plans cleverly, and the Eye occasionally helps cover her tracks, but there are so many bodies ... -- to the Eye being able to stay on her tail and not lose touch over all those years, almost without interruption, especially given how quickly she changes plans, and how much she moves about. Among much else, it is also unbelievable that Joanna doesn't notice the man who constantly hovers and lurks nearby -- alone from the many flights on which he sits a few seats away. Yet Behm convincingly suggest how she sees him, and doesn't, on the few occasions when they do more obviously meet
       The Eye of the Beholder is a novel spanning surprisingly many years, too. Behm nicely reminds of unchanging sameness with a few things that carry through: not only the Eye's obsession with his daughter, but that picture he carries with him, and his daydreams about the girls in it. There's his crossword habit, and the one clue that it takes him years to solve. And Joanna too has her predictable fallbacks -- Hamlet, cognac, certain pieces of music. There are horoscopes, of course. Behm does this atmospheric stuff very well, his screenwriting practice on obvious display here -- these are the kind of things that one gives viewers to associate with characters over the course of a ninety-minute or two-hour film, and they work very well here too.
       The Eye of the Beholder is, in many ways, a silly and in parts disturbing novel. But there's an epic grandeur to it too, and for all the senseless slaughter, the deaths are almost classical -- even in being almost merely incidental.
       It is an unusual but accomplished work, even with all its various rough edges. - M.A.Orthofer

Don’t be put off this bleak, obsessive, chronicle of crime and murder if you had the misfortune to see the 1999 Canadian-British-Australian film! Despite the casting of Ewan McGregor and Ashley Judd it was both a critical and box office failure, largely due to attempts to over-modernise Marc Behm’s seminal work – it was written and set 20 years before – and to the story being slashed to the point of being almost unintelligible.
This strange and chilling combination of private-eye novel and psychological suspense story, set in a cold and abusive wasteland where Hollywood scriptwriter Behm’s principal characters drift almost aimlessly across a dangerous and uncaring America, is a strange story of obsession, murder, loneliness and love.
The main characters are a psychologically damaged, beautiful and seductive former care home girl who, shadowlike, shifts her name and appearance each time she finds a new victim. The only constant in her life is that they are all wealthy – and all wind up dead! She is pursued by a nameless, at-the-end-of-his-rope, driven and obsessed private eye, originally hired by the parents of one of her early victims to trace his movements.
From the moment she walks into the view-finder of his camera she becomes the centre of his universe. All other questions become secondary, except that of his own missing daughter, as he observes then, as his dangerous fantasies mount, begins to aid her cross-continental killing spree, while at the same time never revealing himself.
This is a hypnotic journey spread over more than 20 years which will leave you questioning the definitions of love and compassion as Behm cleverly blurs the line between the two. Is it a tragic story of unspoken love or a disturbing novel of obsession? This fast-paced, tight, psychological page-turner hardly gives the reader time to think.
Some may be put off by the coldness and cruelty of the narrative, its lack of what most would recognise as any genuine emotion. Behm does an outstanding job introducing feelings of suspense, discomfort and fear until the climactic end of this spooky and chilling relationship.
While strong on the dark side, he is no great literary author. The story is somewhat contrived, clunky, and some of his characterisations are a bit thin and the dialogue positively weak.
Fortunately, this strange, sad story is intriguing enough to keep your eyes glued to the page and make this a book – like its follow-up and mirror image twin Afraid To Death – you will not easily forget.

Behm's morbid fancy for shady ladies continues, with the completely vile Queen of the Night (1977) succeeded here by a female Bluebeard butcher. Her name is Joanna Eris, and she tends to marry her men before killing them, preferably on the first honeymoon night. How we know all this is thanks to the omnipresence of the ""Eye,"" a private shamus (called in originally to trace a missing heir) who discovers Joanna's homicidal penchants but doesn't blow the whistle on her. The ""Eye,"" you see, has a daughter he's never met (a bitter divorce, with all the usual tough-private-eye crying-on-the-inside clich‚s); and Joanna, this murdering virago, might just be his long-lost. . . . So the ""Eye"" throws over his job and lives off his savings as he follows Joanna around, criss-crossing the country countless times, keeping track of her innumerable aliases, wigs, and modi operandi. He even becomes her guardian angel--he's always there nearby, on ledges, under windows, hoping that she kills cleanly and gets away. Behm's basic idea here has possibilities, but it doesn't fill a novel: his shuttling across the country after Joanna would give even a travel agent headaches, with a pace that's kept over-busy to disguise a narrative interest that has palled early on. Repetitious, fairly depraved and skanky stuff, then; titillating for a short while, finally a hyperactive bore. - Kirkus Reviews

One morning, a private detective, known only as The Eye, receives an assignment from his superiors in which he is to trail a young bachelor who has strayed from his wealthy family. The job seems easy enough, but during his stakeout he soon discovers a hitch that will irrevocably turn his entire life upside down.
Said hitch is a lovely young woman, hanging on the arm of the young bachelor that The Eye has been assigned to observe. Instinctively, he snaps her photo. She’s clearly the reason why this young man refuses to see his family anymore. But there is something more...
The Eye cannot put his finger on it. What attracts him so to this strange young woman? Who is she and where did she come from? Following the couple around town, the detective learns that they are to be married very soon. They will elope later that day and The Eye will tail them back to a cottage in the middle of the woods where he will watch them from the shadows of the trees at night. Later, the young woman will murder her new husband, then dispose of his body in the lake the next morning.
What begins is one of the most enigmatic, deranged and heartbreaking love affairs ever committed in fiction. Marc Behm’s The Eye of the Beholder (1980) turns the detective novel first on its head and then sideways before shot-putting it across a terrain of Żuławskian terror. The surrealism at work here is an overactive mind eclipsed by the paranoid delusions of a grieving parent. Once The Eye has the object of his obsession lined up in his sights, there's the retribution of a lost child to contend with again and again.
Behm’s story, a murder-mystery caper with erotic dimensions, finds a strange, sometimes deadly, catharsis in relieving oneself from the world at large, abandoning reality for the crueler distortions of internal logic. Such is the myopic life of the antihero of Behm’s misshapen, byzantine tale of silent carnage.
Believing this alluring young murderess to be the incarnate of his long-missing grade school daughter, The Eye neurotically follows (furtively, from varying distances) his suspect from state to state, endeavoring to protect her from whatever forces may intercept her murderous sprees. Concealing the young woman’s felonies in an effort to thwart the police, The Eye becomes a willing accomplice in both crime and a subverted form of incest of which his lost daughter becomes the imperceptible target. Be they officers of the law or would-be lovers, people are dispatched with the casual and effortless movements of a deadly woman who has been ruined by a lifetime of sordid touches. Whatever she happens to leave unadorned by the hand of death, her silent and nearly invisible assailant steps in to finish the job.
Managing an altogether deeply probing and subtle exploration of the oedipal cycle, the author dissects the perverted desires of older men in a curious stretch of noirish drama and Freudian destruction. Though the story is never focalized from the point of the young and clever serial killer, her role in the father-daughter circuit of death proves functional every time she kills; every murder committed seems to heighten The Eye’s sexual sense of self and parental concern.
No killing is bereft of some reminder of his missing (possibly dead) daughter, Maggie, who haunts the frame of the story as a ghost, either sitting alongside The Eye during car chases or hovering eerily in lonely fields by the sides of the road. The young killer, who is later revealed by her true name, Joanna Eris, assumes a variety of names and disguises, thereby providing a blank canvas for which Maggie will be cast onto as a vicarious co-conspirator.
The phenomenal sense of longing and sadness with which the story is imbued is impressive. Behm expertly draws two despondent loners from the gritty pulp novels of David Goodis and redresses them with a certain deconstruction worthy of Émile Zola. In Behm’s world of refracted rage, loneliness and oedipal desires, perpetrators and victims are pulled into mortuary focus under a Weltanschauung lens. Levelled by a narrative which refuses to define a purposeful morality, criminals and victims are reduced to a primary base of ego-driven needs; death is the only distinguishing line that separates killer from victim.
For every crime and body concealed, there's the revealing of a deeper, more pressing transgression articulated in the sexual exploits of this one dangerous woman (she marries, copulates, then kills); when Joanna cannot consummate her affairs with any meaningful connection to the fading memory of her long-dead father, any reminders of such failed attempts at love (i.e., every man in her life) must be duly exterminated. In an endless, hopeless chase across state lines, a story of yearnings, both poisonous and heart-rending, is drawn in a narrative arc that covers nearly 20 years.
Claude Miller’s voguish 1983 French film adaptation of Behm’s novel (Mortelle Randonnée) revisits this death-chase in a splendorous European panorama. What were once state lines are now country borders and The Eye (played by the late comedic actor Michel Serrault) follows the young woman (the impossibly beautiful Isabelle Adjani) throughout the European continent. Pulling back from the far more dangerous waters Behm explores, Miller opts for the more impressionable touches of humor, realized by the dramatically camp jazz score courtesy of American free jazz composer Carla Bley.
Miller’s film embodies a typically ‘80s sense of stylized iniquity. This is undoubtedly down to Adjani’s participation; her casting was almost certainly deliberate, in that her renowned beauty (cool, glassy, unshattered elegance) presents a perfect artifice for the callous and dastardly crimes committed with an almost modish and urbane flair. Adjani, a skilled actress whose onscreen passions are transformed with movements of considerable empathy, instills in Joanna a calculated poignancy; the actress manages a quietly disciplined approach to uncovering the layers of an enigmatic sociopath so that she may reveal true flesh within a stone-encased heart. With the choice casting of Adjani and a narrative that maintains the novel’s emotional essence, Miller succeeds in making murder look like a fetching exercise in cathartic release, reinventing Behm’s original story with upscale new wave chic.
In the fantasist (perhaps punkishly romantic) slant of an '80s thriller, Mortelle Randonée works up a cosmopolitan atmosphere of dread and sordid black humour, the comic foils of which perpetuate much of the plot. Adjani’s sensitive alternations between rage and wounded coquettishness are sized up against Serrault’s cool-as-can-be eccentricities. The inescapable foibles which follow Serrault often preset the action, deepening the nearly extrasensory bond between detective and murderess.
Though Joanna is never consciously aware of being followed by The Eye, the shadow of his presence always haunts the vicinities; in an emotionally-weighted scene, Adjani’s character walks a neon-lit street one night in a strange city and tunes into a higher frequency emitted from The Eye’s psychic space: “I’m going home,” she responds to a telepathically delivered question. It’s a moment rarely seen in even the most adroit thrillers of intellectual persuasion -- a touch employed by Miller which reinforces the profoundly mystifying, sometimes perverse, alliance between father and daughter. In both the filmmaker’s and novelist’s vision, Joanna becomes the divining ghost that The Eye chases after, an adult projection of everything he never dreamed his own daughter could be -- everything she may as well be now in his hopeless and desperate pursuit.
What both Miller and Behm present here is a story of convoluted desires, ones that follow long-winding roads across country and into the desolate environments of both land and soul. Joanna murders her way through various men the way she does her various selves; each death uncovers a new depth of character, revealed in the casting off of an emotional instigator.
In the disoriented longings of sex, death and parental love, the oedipal cycles here come to an end when kin are united with the ghosts of their past and present. The true horror of the story, however, lies in what is revealed in the very last stretch, the final fragment of whatever is left of a person when trauma plays parent to a child, now lost and receding into a void of nothingness... - Imran Khan

An unnamed private detective, known only as "THE EYE" is the hero of one of those peculiar books written in the genre but not 'of' the genre, if you see what I mean. Hired to tail a young man, The Eye witnesses the murder of the young man by his new wife on their honeymoon, and is soon obsessed with her. His obsession seems to know no bounds, and as the novel unwinds, The Eye follows his prey around the world over a span of several years, as she works her way through a string of husbands, and the body count climbs.
As 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 Marlowe, à la The Maltese Falcon,"Who's the punk?" to which Marlowe 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 hardboiled 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 have hailed Behn as a major new writer. In fact, it was filmed in 1983 , in French, as Mortelle Randonnèe, directed by Claude Miller, and starring Isabelle Adjani. Ironic, since the book started out as a film script for Philip Yordan, but when that project fell through, it became a novel. In many ways it still reads like a 'book of the film'. Still there are plenty of laughs in there as well.
A new film version, this time in English, featuring Ewan McGregor (Trainspotting, etc) as The Eye, filmed in my hometown, with Montreal substituting for a dozen cities around the world, and directed with tons of style by Stephan Elliot (The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert) was released in January 2000. Although it's been getting 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--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 new 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! -

Mortelle randonnée - IMDb page
Eye of the Beholder - IMDb page

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Marc Behm, Afraid to Death, Arcadia Books, 2017.

A cult classic, Afraid to Death is a chilling psychological thriller with a hallucinogenic quality.Joe Egan is on the run. A mysterious blonde appears to him whenever someone close to him dies. He lives his life in fear of her, but at the same time develops a strange fascination with her. Who is the blonde woman? Is she a figment of his imagination, the angel of death, or even the devil incarnate?

Joe Egan is a desperate man on the run from a mysterious blonde woman who is in fact the Angel of Death. As a kid Joe encountered the woman three times, and on each occasion someone close to him died. She appears to Joe a forth time when he’s in his twenties, living a secure life with a girlfriend and a gambling habit. Upon the woman’s latest appearance Joe immediately bolts, setting in motion a pattern of flight that will continue through the remainder of Joe’s life, which sees him repeatedly criss-crossing the United States with the blonde woman, who never seems to age, avidly tracking his every move.
     AFRAID TO DEATH, initially published in French, was the fourth novel by novelist/screenwriter Marc Behm. It’s been billed as a “literary Siamese twin” to Behm’s 1980 masterpiece THE EYE OF THE BEHOLDER. AFRAID TO DEATH is definitely similar to that mind-roasting classic about a grief-stricken private dick shadowing a murderous seductress across the U.S., with a similarly picturesque narrative driven by an obsessive protagonist and phantasmagoric hard-boiled prose (think Jim Thompson crossed with William S. Burroughs). Here, though, the gender roles have been reversed, with the woman doing the stalking and the man on the run. Also, the suffocating atmosphere of extreme fear (the literal English translation of the book’s original French title TROUILLE) that suffuses AFRAID TO DEATH is unique.
     It’s that sense of overpowering dread that drives Joe Egan on his never-ending flight, which sees him getting involved with various women and making money through his poker skills. Joe never stays anywhere for long, as the blonde woman always manages to track him down regardless of how he tries to disguise himself (at one point he even dresses as a woman to throw her off). Her appearances are often mundane but just as often uncanny (i.e. emerging from out of the middle of the ocean), and always presage the death of somebody close to Joe. Even though he’s terrified of the Blonde Woman Joe can’t help but lust after her, going so far as to outfit a girlfriend as the woman during sex. Living with such a riot of warring emotions it’s inevitable that madness comes to overtake Joe, calling into question what is “real” about his odyssey and what isn’t, to which no easy answers are forthcoming.
     The novel spans untold decades in the life of its protagonist, yet (again like THE EYE OF THE BEHOLDER) still satisfies as a fast-moving thriller. Its fascination is in Marc Behm’s unique but quite characteristic mingling of fear, eroticism and madness, all packed into a gripping and unerringly well-told narrative. -
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Marc Behm, The Queen of the Night, Houghton Mifflin, 1977.            

Edmonde is an innocent born in horrible times, Germany of the 1920's. Deprived in her early youth of her parents, she is swallowed up in the craziness of history. Death and sex are her constant companions. Choosing an equivocal lesbian role, Edmonde comes to know the leaders in Nazi circles including Hitler and Eva Braun. During the war she serves with the SS in the invasion of Russia and the occupation of Paris. She emerges as a symbol of the times, an amoral agent, never quite lovable, but daring, sensitive, full of bravado and humor and totally independent. A maiden surrounded by brutality, she cannot escape her fate, enduring both her life and her death with the same spirit of absolution.

Echoing the infamous 1974 film THE NIGHT PORTER and foreshadowing D.M. Thomas’ THE WHITE HOTEL (1981) and Steve Erickson’s TOURS OF THE BLACK CLOCK (1989), it’s a highly picturesque first person account of a sexually voracious young woman’s exploits in Nazi Germany.
     Through this woman’s eyes we meet Adolph Hitler, Joseph Goebbels, Adolph Eichmann, Heinrich Himmler and Hitler’s sex-starved main squeeze Eva Braun. Our heroine witnesses countless acts of rape, mutilation and necrophilia during her odyssey, and even takes part in the “final solution” via a specially equipped bus with a carbon monoxide valve in its roof. Throughout it all this “Queen of the Night” remains a detached and ironic observer, only really coming alive when confronted with apparitions of her dead father.
     In what would prove to be a definite foreshadowing of things to come, Marc Behm spares us nothing in this gruesome account. Nor does he ever let his “heroine” off the hook, as she takes part in the horrors just like everyone else--it matters not that her attitude toward the madness is often ambivalent. -

     After such an unqualified triumph it was probably inevitable that Behm’s following novel would be something of a let-down. That was indeed the case with 1983’s THE ICE MAIDEN, an imaginative but rather wobbly and misconceived vampire romp (whose sole English language appearance was in a three-novel omnibus published by Zomba Books). It centers on Cora, Brand and Terry, a trio of centuries-old vamps looking to get rich by pulling off a complex robbery. The planning and execution of the caper are juxtaposed rather clumsily with lengthy flashbacks depicting the characters’ past exploits. These vampires can shape-shift, frequently transforming into bats, wolves and a shapeless invisible mass--a talent that comes in mighty handy during the robbery!
     The novel is enjoyable enough overall, and contains some wonderfully perverse surprises (such as Cora in bat form burrowing between a horny woman’s legs), but Behm’s near-psychedelic stream-of-consciousness prose style is better suited to the psychological narratives of his other novels than the (comparatively) naturalistic veneer of THE ICE MAIDEN. Nor is Behm’s depiction of modern-day bloodsuckers especially interesting in light of other vampire themed novels like INTERVIEW WITH THE VAMPIRE, VAMPIRE JUNCTION, THEY THIRST, THE DELICATE DEPENDENCY and THE VAMPIRE TAPESTRY, all of which preceded this novel, and all of which far outdid. -

Marc Behm was a terrific American novelist. So why are his books only available in French?
The news of the death of Marc Behm on July 12 has only just reached me. Unsurprisingly, I haven't seen a single obituary in either the American or British press - it was through the pages of a French magazine that I found out about his passing. (He was something of a cult figure in France, where he spent the final part of his life after marrying a French woman.)
Behm was born in 1925 in Trenton, New Jersey and served with the US army in Europe during the second world war. Following a decade of small parts as an actor on the stage and US television, he initially made a name for himself as a screenwriter, penning the short story Charade, later expanded into a full-blown screenplay in collaboration with his friend Peter Stone. The film that resulted, directed by Stanley Donen and starring Cary Grant and Audrey Hepburn, is widely acknowledged as a classic.
Two years later, he boarded the Beatles bandwagon and wrote the screenplay for Help! for Richard Lester and moved full-time to Europe. His later screenwriting assignments were of a journeyman nature, with lucrative but artistically frustrating work including Trunk to Cairo, The 13 Chairs, an Edith Piaf biopic and sundry Charles Bronson and Sylvia Kristel vehicles. The screenwriting paid the bills as he shared his time between Paris and the Brittany coast, but it's his second life as a writer that should ensure he is not forgotten.
His first novel The Queen of the Night was published to total indifference in America in 1977 - a curiously baroque and deliberately over-the-top romance set in Nazi Germany which was years ahead of its time and found echoes in Jonathan Littell's blockbusting Les Bienveillantes last year. He followed this up in 1980 with a crime novel The Eye of the Beholder, which has since been recognised as a pivotal work in the history of mystery fiction, has been filmed twice and is constantly reprinted worldwide.
The Eye is a private detective whose daughter has been missing for many years. In his desperate search for her, he comes across a mysterious femme fatale with a unique talent for seducing rich men, swindling and then killing them. Even though he is aware of his own delusion, he pretends she is his daughter and follows her, disposing of evidence and covering her tracks in a sort of road movie with obsession upped to overdrive.
Again, the book had no impact on initial publication and it wasn't until three years later that I published it (alongside the first novel and the then unpublished Ice Maiden, which has long been a film project of Jean-Jacques Beineix) in the UK, where the reviewers went wild for its curious blend of amour fou, crime and fatalism. Of course, in France, Marc's book had already been acclaimed as a modern classic and a film version of the book, directed by Claude Miller, featuring Michael Serrault and Isabelle Adjani made a major impact as Mortelle Randonnee. A later English-language version by the director of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, Stephan Elliott, was however a bit of a disaster, miscasting Ewan McGregor and Ashley Judd in the main parts.
By then, though, Marc had retired from screenwriting and his writing became something of a hobby. He would complete another five novels, all initially published only in France apart from Afraid to Death, picked up by No Exit Press in the UK. This latter is a fascinating mirror image to Eye of the Beholder, in which the male character becomes the prey of a female stalker cum angel of death, yet again a striking tale of obsession unbound and a disturbing psychological chiller. It was quite unlike the mainstream of contemporary crime fiction, but then Marc was never one for fashions, moving across genres with an easy contempt for the obligations of modern publishing whereby you stick to one mood and type of story and just keep writing it over and over.
Although highly popular in France in translation, his other novels remain unavailable in his own language, a fact to which he was quite indifferent. They include his serial killer epic Off the Wall, two picaresque chase thrillers with a supernaturally gifted heroine, Seek to Know No More and Crabs, and the madcap satire of Pulp Novel. He also wrote a handful of short stories, again collected in book form only in France.
Although Marc lived to a ripe old age, I can't help regretting he didn't write more or make stronger efforts to get his books published in this country. I came across a secondhand copy of The Eye of the Beholder in an Oxfam shop and made it my mission to create an imprint in which I could publish it. Now that I am myself retired from publishing, I can only hope there will be another editor out there who will one day be captured by the dazzling folly of Marc Behm's books and will make those missing novels available. They will astound you. - Obituary by Maxim Jakubowski