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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

Devil Take the Blue-Tail Fly

John Franklin Bardin

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To purchase Devil Take the Blue-Tail Fly

Title: Devil Take the Blue-Tail Fly
Author: John Franklin Bardin
Genre: Novel
Written: 1948
Length: 178 pages
Availability: Devil Take the Blue-Tail Fly - US
Devil Take the Blue-Tail Fly - UK
Le diable prend la mouche - France
Die Bärengrube - Deutschland
Al salir del infierno - España

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Our Assessment:

B+ : dark, effective tale of an unbalanced mind

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
TLS . 24/12/1976 Patricia Highsmith

  • "(R)emains probably the most effective Noir exploration of insanity and one of the sharpest deconstructions of established psychiatry." - Kenneth Payne, in "Then Something Snapped Inside Me": The Psychiatrist as Noir Protagonist in John Franklin Bardin's The Deadly Percheron (1946), Papers on Language & Literature (Summer/2002)

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:

       Devil Take the Blue-Tail Fly begins with Ellen Purcell's last day at the psychiatric institution where she has spent the past two years. An ordeal appears to be over, and Ellen is happy, excited, and a bit unsettled about finally being able to go home. She appears healed ... but Bardin allows a few discordant notes to creep in, suggesting that possibly everything isn't completely right.
       Ellen is -- or was -- a talented harpsichordist, and she is married to renowned conductor Basil. He comes to pick her up from the hospital, and life is soon back to normal -- or the semblance of normal -- again. Things seem to go reasonably well, but they don't go perfectly. And there are more hints that Ellen's hold on sanity isn't quite as strong as hoped for.
       Disaster strikes with the chance meeting of Ellen and Jimmy Shad. It turns out Jimmy is a good friend of Basil's sister, Nancy. It also turns out that Ellen and Jimmy have something of a history -- a sordid one, from her conservatory days.
       Jimmy stirs up a lot in Ellen, and little for the good. All sorts of memories are dredged up (and this could be a textbook novel about repressed memory of sexual abuse), and Ellen's never quite sure what's real or what's not. Eventually, there's a murder.
       Bardin effectively ratchets up the suspense, only slowly revealing ever more of Ellen's confused past and soon equally confusing present. It's a keen portrait of a broken mind, with some nice tragic touches: her musical abilities, dear old dad, and especially Jimmy's song, from which the book's title is taken. Things spin out of control, and Bardin does a good job of the complicated task of allowing the reader just to keep hold. He has a nice sense of the psychiatric, and the damage that can be done to people. And the writing is good throughout. The book is full of scenes like:

There was no light anywhere, no alleviation, only shadow devoured by shadow, umbra and penumbra. Worse than that, there was distance and time, a great pit into which she must fall, on whose edge she trembled at this instant. Many times she had fallen into it, many times had she taken that awful plunge, that dizzying descent that was one prolonged, headlong flight down to the depths of the past, to another place, another era.
       And that, of course, is also the problem with the novel: it all seems like so much etcetera. It's much the same -- almost on any page, it sometimes seems -- , repeated headlong flights and awful plunges and lots of shadows (and lots of dizzying stuff and lost memories too) and some readers -- like us -- have no patience for it.
       Alcoholics and the mentally unstable are not very appealing literary characters; unfortunately, Bardin likes them both and milks aspects of them (amnesia or other forms of memory-loss !) far too much. There is a solid story behind Ellen's problems and the consequences that result -- solid enough to sustain interest, and at times truly harrowing. Still, the wallowing in mental confusion isn't to everyone's taste, and even though Bardin does it better than most that's still not entirely good enough.
       A strange, interesting, well-crafted story, but just a bit too dizzying.

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About the Author:

       American author John Franklin Bardin lived 1916-1981.

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