The Deadly Percheron
By John Franklin Bardin
Millipede Press, 2006
Trade Paper, 207 pages
John Franklin Bardin was born in 1916 and during his lifetime he wrote ten dark or noir crime novels. He refused to recognize any difference between genres, once stating his belief there are only good and bad novels. According to Jonathan Lethem, who wrote a thoughtful and lengthy foreward to this edition, Bardin once said that Graham Green, Henry Green and Henry James were noticeable influences on his writing. This novel, Bardin’s first, was published in 1946 and it is a very interesting noir novel indeed.
Amnesia and paranoia are the subjects and the characters, all unusual and distinct, sustain a complicated and bizarre plot through an abrupt but eminently satisfying conclusion. This is by no means a perfect novel, and the sixty-year-old style is sometimes disturbingly devoid of emotion. Shocking action is abruptly presented and just as abruptly disposed of. There is a fairly lengthy center section in which the amnesiac who is the protagonist, is established in his new and very much lower class life on Coney Island. Dr. George Matthews, a prominent psychologist, with a practice in midtown, and a comfortable upper class living, is confronted by a new client who arrives with a fresh hibiscus in his hair. For today’s readers, especially those of us who lived through the seventies and eighties of the last century, that is nothing special about a man with a flower in his hair.
We sense something odd and a little off kilter about the good Dr. Matthews. He appears to have more than passing interest in burgeoning sexuality he observes around him and he seems to identify rather too strongly with his new patient, Jacob Blunt. Blunt reveals that while he is wealthy enough to afford the counseling service of Dr. Matthews, he is working for a couple of midtown leprechauns, not Irish, he assures the doctor, American leprechauns. What’s more, he is really anxious to be told that he must be hallucinating, is withdrawing from reality and the events he is witnessing and doing are not real. He is happily losing his mind, which is far better than being trapped in this strange alter world.
The reader is rather suddenly brought up short when the doctor almost eagerly agrees to enter Mr. Blunt’s world. From there we are drawn farther and farther with the doctor, into this weird world of murder, large horses, amnesia and paranoia.
Difficult to locate, perhaps, a novel that is well worth the effort. This edition, from Millipede Press of Colorado, carries a striking cover painting by Salvador Dali.