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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

The Deadly Percheron

John Franklin Bardin

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To purchase The Deadly Percheron

Title: The Deadly Percheron
Author: John Franklin Bardin
Genre: Novel
Written: 1946
Length: 185 pages
Availability: The Deadly Percheron - US
The Deadly Percheron - UK
La Mort en gros sabots - France
Das Teufelsrad - Deutschland
L'enigma dei tre omini - Italia
El percherón mortal - España

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Our Assessment:

B+ : too much convenient amnesia and remembering, but an always gripping tale

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
New Republic . 22/7/1946 .
The NY Times Book Rev. . 2/6/1946 Isaac Anderson
The New Yorker . 25/5/1946 .
TLS . 24/12/1976 Patricia Highsmith

  From the Reviews:
  • "Leprechauns yet ! And percherons ! (...) It is a story of murder and mayhem and hideous torture -- one which will hold your attention to the last, even though you cannot possibly believe that such things could happen here in little old New York." - Isaac Anderson, The New York Times Book Review

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       The Deadly Percheron begins with a scene that doesn't sound that unusual: psychiatrist Dr. George Matthews sees his last patient of the day, a new one named Jacob Blunt whose first words are: "Doctor, I think I'm losing my mind." Blunt -- who appears with a hibiscus in his hair -- certainly sounds slightly delusional. He tells a story of little men -- leprechauns -- who pay him to wear flowers in his hair and to give away quarters and to whistle in public places. Even Blunt thinks it's pretty unbelievable, which is why he's come to consult a psychiatrist: to see if he might not just be imagining things.
       Matthews narrates the whole story, and he's a bit flummoxed by Blunt: the well-off young man seems, by and large, sane enough, but tells a story that's just too strange to be true. Blunt convinces him to come along when he's supposed to meet Eustace the leprechaun that evening, and Matthews decides to humour him. Problem is, a midget named Eustace does show up at the bar .....
       Eustace has another odd job for Blunt to do: deliver a percheron (that's a horse -- "the kind they use on beer wagons") to the apartment of Frances Raye, "the most successful actress on Broadway". As Eustace explains: "We leprechauns have decided that it's about time she had a percheron". And he even has the horse waiting outside the bar.
       Matthews thinks it's all a ridiculous, elaborate practical joke -- but then he gets a call the next morning and learns that Frances Raye has been murdered and Blunt arrested. Blunt goes to the police station and talks to an acquaintance there, Lieutenant Anderson, convincing him to release Blunt into his custody . Matthews goes to collect the prisoner with Blunt's gal Nancy, whom he also met the previous evening -- but the man Nancy greets as Blunt isn't the man Matthews met the day before. Instead of immediately telling the authorities, however, he decides to go along with the charade -- only to promptly feel a sharp blow to his back as they wait on the subway platform, and to black out.
       Matthews wakes up to find himself in the psychopathic ward of the City Hospital, a huge scar disfiguring his face. Months have apparently passed by, and everyone believes him to be a vagrant named John Brown. Try as he might he can't convince anyone he's Dr.George Matthews -- a man who died a while back.
       Matthews' memory is hazy and he has no idea what happened to him. First he has to get out of the hospital -- which he does by convincing the doctors that he really is John Brown (and not a maniac claiming to be the dead Matthews). He begins a new life as John Brown, out in Coney Island, still unclear about what happened to him all those lost months.
       Slowly things come back to him -- and there are new encounters with figures from the recent past. Layer by layer Bardin strips back the covered-up past, as Matthews remembers what happened to him (and others fill in the blanks) until all the pieces slowly fall into place.
       Parts of the novel stand on pretty shaky ground -- it's a complicated plan behind the murders (by the end there's more than just the one), and along the way some very fortuitous coincidences and unlikely (and unprofessional) conduct by many of the actors prevent things getting cleared up earlier. Still, it's one tight, taut thriller and it's never boring. Clinical (and then slightly confused) Matthews as narrator also effectively keeps the truly bizarre aspects of the book in check, allowing for the parade of freak show characters and incredible behaviour while still keeping things (more or less) rationally grounded.
       The book isn't quite believable -- there's just a bit too much that's a bit too far-fetched -- but it's still a very enjoyable read. Bardin knows how to tell a story, and he sets a nice tone for Matthews, generally capturing the various stages the doctor goes through (bewilderment, acceptance, curiosity, a desire for revenge) very well. The explanations behind it all are a bit too convoluted to be believed (as is the fact that they weren't discovered earlier), but they're acceptable, especially given the fun and exciting ride provided along the way. Recommended.

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The Deadly Percheron: Reviews: John Franklin Bardin: Other books by John Franklin Bardin under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       American author John Franklin Bardin lived 1916-1981.

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