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Gurglings of a Putrid Stream

Thoughts on books and other assorted topics.

See also:  http://goppf.wikidot.com/swstart

My name:  Brian Martin

The Deadly Percheron by John Franklin Bardin

The Deadly Percheron - John Franklin Bardin, Jonathan Lethem

The Brits' rediscovery of this book in the 1970s was based on its psychological elements, and that is how it comes to us now, as an early psychological crime novel. The edition depicted here (not my own) features a Salvador Dali painting on the covers that is clearly intended to suggest a certain surreal quality to it all. One internet reviewer tells us the book is a "deadly serious excursion into identity formation and the psychology of guilt." How such a book was overlooked to begin with is the real mystery. Unfortunately, the solution to that mystery isn't very satisfying: the book so described and the book in your hand are two entirely different entities.

The first thing you realize as you begin to read--the book opens with a psychiatrist whose new patient claims to be working for leprechauns--is that you're drawn in by the mystery. Like George Matthews, the psychiatrist, you don't for a minute believe the leprechaun story, but you want to know what it means. And like any good mystery you don't find out until the last page. But in between--in spite of the weird addition of percheron horses left at murder scenes, amnesia, and torture--that's what keeps you reading, wanting to know how it all fits together. In the real world. Not in some netherworld of the mind.

This is because we know (and never doubt) that George is sane. Bardin never suggests otherwise. I applaud Bardin for providing us an explanation of George's amnesia that goes beyond a simple blow to the head, but Bardin uses neither (the amnesia nor its cause) to introduce doubt about the man's perceptions. Instead, he uses them to prolong and to deepen the mystery.

In his Introduction to The John Franklin Bardin Omnibus, Julian Symons claims that George fears he is going mad. He doesn't. He really doesn't. And this is the key to the book's reevaluation: if the reader brings this perception to the work, then the whole thing becomes a psychological game, with reality in the balance. But it's a game the reader must play with himself, for Bardin does nothing to encourage it.

But for all that, this is a good book that deserved rediscovery. The mystery is intriguing and the hero's journey to the truth is certainly an unusual and painful one. Just don't believe the hype.