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John Franklin Bardin Book List

(with Synopses)

This page has synopses of all of the published works of John Franklin Bardin. In some cases quotes have been used from reviews and promotional materials and are given credit.


J.F.B. Book Links

Click on the name of the book you are interested in.

The Deadly Percheron The Last of Philip Banter Devil Take the Blue-Tail Fly The Case Against Myself
The Burning Glass The Case against Butterfly A Shroud for Grandmama  
So Young to Die Christmas Comes but Once a Year Purloining Tiny  

The Deadly Percheron

LEPRECHAUNS yet! And percherons! And a young man who wears a flower in his hair, gives away quarters and whistles in Carnagie Hall. The young man is Jacob Blunt and he thinks he is going crazy. Can you blame him? Blunt consults Dr. George Matthews, a psychiatrist, who is then caught up in a bewildering series of events compared with which the phenomena just mentioned are but child's play. 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.
-- The New York Times June 2, 1946

Dr. George Matthews, a distinguished psychiatrist, admits to his office a new "case" named Jacob Blunt, who, though seemingly normal, wears a red hibiscus in his hair and confesses to a strange connection with a number of dwarfs. The doctor cannot decide whether Jacob is a badly frightened young man, or an amusing poseur. The oddity of his patient's symptoms arouses him to accompany Jacob to a dingy Third Avenue bar where he meets Eustace, one of the dwarfs, and where the deadly percheron enters the picture. But Matthew's professional curiosity has carried him one step too far. Before he can help himself, he is plunged into a cataclysmic whirlpool of intimidation and murder from which there is no visible escape. The morbid sadism of some person unknown and the pressure of a rapid succession of sinister incidents drive him into a shadowy abyss where two hazy worlds overlap. And only in the tomb of his memory lie the identities which can release him and uncover his malefactor.
-- Books for Spring 1946, Dodd, Mead


Matthews winds up in the psychopathic ward of a hospital. He cleverly wins his release, but not as Dr. George Matthews, however. He has surrendered his identity. He has become John Brown, facially disfigured Coney Island cafeteria worker.

Surrounded by "drifters, "artists" and "characters of Coney Islands' amusement park life. John Brown meets a woman, Sonia, and the novel races forward to its exhilarating finale.


Bardin Lore -- John heard about a contest sponsored by Twentieth Century-Fox and worked diligently to complete enough of his "work in progress" so as to be able to enter it. It didn't win, but the reader for the contest was Mavis McIntosh, who thus became John's literary agent and sold this "first novel". . . . The original title of "The Deadly Percheron" was TODAY BEFORE YESTERDAY. Dodd, Mead requested a different title asking John to create a list of possibilities. "The Deadly Percheron" was chosen. One of the other choices, which remained as one of the chapter's titles, was PERCHERONS DON'T COME CHEAP. . . "The Deadly Percheron"'s movie rights were quickly sold to Twentieth Century-Fox who got as far as casting the movie, then dropped the project. This, as I am certain the reader can imagine, was a huge disappointment for John.


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The Last of Philip Banter

"Terror can strike by day as well as by night. Although the frightful is, perhaps rightly, conjoined in our minds with the darkly colored, the harshly dissonant -- with bludgeon blows and the order of decay -- the most terrible experiences are often bereft of these properties of melodrama. The words "I love you," spoken on a sun-streaked terrace during a joyous day, can cement a betrayal. The unchecked gratification of an impulse, conceived in sensation, can bear the bitter fruit of misery. And a prophecy can -- by auto-suggestion or soothsaying? -- deliver a man to evil.

Who was driving Philip Banter to destruction -- himself or another?

"Reversing the customary pattern of crime fiction, this gripping novel opens with first planted seed that will lead to murder and is nearing its surprise ending when the actual killing is committed....

.....Philip Banter is an alcoholic and a neurotic with a growing fear of insanity. An ex-newspaperman, now member of a prosperous advertising firm thanks to a brilliant marriage, handsome and debonair, his twin weaknesses are woman and whisky. He can resist neither.

Since his school days, he has been troubled by a penchant for forgetting by the morning experiences of the night before. He finds a growing tendency to complete forgetfulness. He will remember nothing from then to the morning's awakening.

And then "Confessions" begin appearing mysteriously on his desk. They are Confessions, not of what will take place in the past, last night, but of what will take place tonight. And strangely the essential parts develop into fact.

There is Philip Banter's beautiful, jealous, neglected wife. There is her doting father, hating Banter as he would have hated anyone who married his daughter. There is Jeremy Foulkes, whose girl Banter's wife had been. There is his secretary, hating Banter because he was pushed into his present job on the shoulders of the man she loved. There are others.

There follow Banter's exploits with the woman, including the night he spends with Jeremy's fiancee. There is Jeremy's jaunt to a suburban roadhouse and inn with Banter's wife. There is much of that, plenty of alcohol, but over it all the growing threat of insanity..."
-- W.J.M., Jr. The Montgomery Advertiser 2/23/47


Bardin Lore -- John worked in advertising for nearly two decades and at times not unlike "Philip Banter", lived hard. So far, this is the only book of John's to have a film version.


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Devil Take the Blue-Tail Fly

...The story is seen through the eyes of a woman, a professional harpsichordist, who is being released from a mental hospital (again) when the book begins. She returns to her potentially happy and convertible existence with her husband Basil, a conductor of increasing fame. The harpsichord is in the house, but Ellen cannot find the key. Finally Basil finds it in the lock of the of the instrument itself, where it should be. Ellen lunches with her husband's sister Nancy in Manhattan, and who should turn up at Nancy's flat, but Jim Shad, a handsome and well-known folk-singer with a guitar, and with whom Ellen had an affair while still a schoolgirl...

...We see Ellen as a boarding-school girl hardly past pigtail age, sneaking off alone to visit the roadside nightspot where Jim Shad sings:

When I was young I used to wait,
On Massa and give him a plate,
And pass the bottle when he got dry
And brush away the blue-tail fly.

He picks her up at the bar -- nothing easier as she has written him a fan letter -- and seduces her that same evening. Past blend with future. What hotel room was it? Was it the one with the brown-varnished door, the fire-escape window out of which Ellen climbed, jumping the last ten feet to street level? Jim lay with his head bashed in, seen by Ellen, but was it in the rented room or in a hotel room? Did Ellen do it or did she simply climb out of the bed and see what someone else had done?

Ellen has an alter ego whom she calls Nelle. Nelle is evil, more crude and vigorous than Ellen, present sometimes in taxis with Ellen and Basil. Ellen attempts to resume her career as harpsichordist, plays passably well, but her best friends inform her after the performance that she has lost the artist's gift. Mr. Bardin is brilliant, as good as Dickens, in describing an aging critical hack, so decrepit that his seated and even standing figure resembles a question mark. On the evening of her new debut as concert artist, Ellen sees Basil retreating into an alcove of the apartment with Vanessa, an auburn-haired woman whom Ellen has suspected is Basel's new love. Now Ellen is sure, and she sits down and plays, for the small audience at the reception, not the "Goldberg Variations, but a chorus from "the Blue-Tailed Fly""...

...Black, blackness are words that recur in Blue-Tail Fly in connection with sex, orgasm, surrender. The best-seller "Sybil" told of multiple personality, but was written by a doctor about a genuine case. Some of Ellen's aggressive thoughts externalized by Nelle, sound like the tape-recordings of "Sybil":

"Dr Danzer has never understood you for all his big words and fancy ideas. He hasn't helped you either. You are just the same as you always were, Ellen...But I'm always there, Ellen, why you need me, whether you admit it or not ... I who am your better part! You can't live without me, Ellen, and you know it."

There is the real glint of madness here, and a split in the face of authority and what is called the normal. The end of "Blue Tail Fly is tragic. Basil gives up. Nelle, to Ellen, has become more real than Ellen. Ellen tacks to Nelle. Nelle is stronger. Mr. Bardin seems to have an important message, according to his lights, and it is most depressing. On the next to last page, Ellen is trying to crawl over the bars of the bear's cage in the New York zoo, and Basil is trying to stop her, to catch her. But it is Basil who falls into the pit, and who will be killed. By now, Ellen and Nelle are separate but solid, even if Nelle is visible only to Ellen. As her husband dies Ellen recalls the room in which Shad, the singer ran in horror toward Nelle instead of to her, and then Nelle began to hit Jim Shad over the head with the base of a lamp, while Ellen watched.

We have all had these feelings, more or less, and now and then. The healthier among us try to step back from the brink, try to laugh at what might have happened if we had gone a bit further. The reader of these tales will read in horror -- those who can take it. And they will not forget very soon.
-- Patricia Highsmith The New York Times Literary Supplement 12/24/76


Bardin Lore -- A fervent music fan, John wrote "Devil Take the Blue-Tail Fly" during a period of time when he was listening almost exclusively to "The Goldberg Variations", over-and-over again. . . After successfully caring and watching out for her for a long time, John had to commit his mother to full-time psychiatric care. This had a profound effect on his life and his writing.

After publishing both "The Deadly Percheron" and "The Last Of Philip Banter", Dodd, Mead And Company rejected "Devil Take The Blue-Tail Fly" in America. Shortly thereafter, one day while his literary agent was at lunch, the publisher of those first two books in England, Victor Gollancz, dropped by and inquired about the latest BARDIN. It was pointed out to him in the office and he spirited it off - the only copy - there was no carbon! John was told only six copy-edited changes were made, mostly spellings of American words into their English counterparts, such as "favor" into "favour", before Gollancz published it.


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The Case Against Myself

"...the reader is allowed to know the thoughts of every character, including the murderer---and challenged to solve the crime" -- John Franklin Bardin


The Plot

The discovery of a corpse in the spare bedroom of Bernie Benedict, New York's leading gossip columnist, created a sensation. When the body turned out to be that of Bernie's current heart throb, and his wife was accused of having murdered her rival by putting chloral hydrate in her hot toddy, the case became even more sensational. Few had any doubt that Cathy Benedict was guilty, but her lawyer Bill Bradley followed any lead, no matter how tentative, in his efforts to prove her innocent. In the course of his investigations he got hit on the head and kidnapped -- and he also turned up some very interesting facts. Two more people were killed before Bradley and a psychiatrist named Noel Mayberry put their heads together and came up with the solution to the three murders.
-- Scribners Fall List, July to December 1950


Meet the people involved in THE CASE AGAINST MYSELF

Bernie Benedict -- Whose gossip column was read by thousands -- and whose private life would have provided enough material to keep a dozen columnists happy.

Cathy Benedict -- who awoke one morning to find a suicide note in her own handwriting pinned to her pillow, and an accusation of murder hanging over head.

Melissa Chalmers -- whose corpse had covered a lot of territory for a body either dead drunk-- or just plain dead.

Mr. Simpson -- an innocent-looking little man around whom there hung an aura of evil; owner of a fantastic factory located in the ballroom of an old hotel.

Alexander Draper -- who valued his reputation more than he valued a woman's life.

Mildred -- you probably have never met anyone like Mildred -- and we hope you never will.

Bill Bradly, lawyer, and Noel Mayberry, psychiatrist, who put their theories together and came up with the solution to three murders.
-- From the back jacket of The Case Against Myself, Charles Scribner's Sons, 1950


A Review of "The Case Against Myself" Can Be Found At Pretty Sinister Books: http://prettysinister.blogspot.com

Bardin Lore -- Of all John's published novels, this book initially sold the most copies.


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The Burning Glass

"The Burning Glass", besides being a humorous and suspenseful novel, is a novel about the creation of a poem. -- John Franklin Bardin

"John Franklin Bardin's experiences with mystery story writing and book reviewing contribute diverse riches to his first serious novel, "The Burning Glass" (Scribers). His practice in contriving thrillers is evident in the suspense and deft manipulation of a plot. His critical approach to literature is evidenced in the construction and the polished handling of technique.

The book gives a passionately written account of the bizarre events of a single day in the lives of a small group of talented persons. Setting is the Island, summer resort for artists and scientists.

The major focus is on the none-to-stable marriage of Ruth, a sensitive modern poetess, and Mark, an ambitious geneticist. Their open quarrel starts both the novel and the day. Their separate searches for understanding and complete realization are traced in Mark's physical infidelity and Ruth's irresponsible flirtation. The grave lesson taught them by a precocious 12-year-old boy promotes the reaffirmation and rebirth of their relationship.

The element of mystery is cultivated in the efforts of the youngster, Roger, to express his disgust with the conduct of his elders and show them how they really appear. When the secret of the obscene caricatures that upset the Island's residents is divulged, the boy's final plan to shame the grownups remains to spur the reader on...

...There are several levels of meaning and appreciation not the least of which is the effect of Bardin's artistic craftsmanship. The definite form in telling the story of the marriage is augmented by a complex of parallel patterns. Most interesting of these is involved in Ruth's creation of a poem. Each of the three stanzas was inspired during a flash of intensified awareness in which her unconscious dominated conscious mind. Within these verses are captured the emotional essences of the whole day of the whole novel."


John Cournos Writing For The Saturday Review About The Burning Glass: http://www.unz.org/Pub/BardinJohn-1950

Bardin Lore -- Charles Scribner's Sons published "The Burning Glass" and "The Case Against Myself" at the same time . Burroughs Mitchell was John's editor.



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The Case Against Butterfly

"About eight-thirty tonight, I came in and saw a small, knotted-up man beating myself to death. My neck was broken, oh! I was lying on the divan. My mouth was blood. My face was all gray and black and dirty white as it might be in a photograph. It was my face just as it appears on the cover of "Pulse" except that my eyes were open -- open and glazed and staring. Oh, dead -- I tell you I was dead -- dead, dead, dead!"

So Sally Shaw, nationally famous model, described "her" murder to Dr. Noel Mayberry.

Was it a hallucination?

After Inspector Edgar M. Benson's investigation Sally Shaw was remanded to Bellevue Hospital for observation. A board of alienists would determine whether or not she was legally sane, whether or not she could be charged with double murder and stand trial.

The police were satisfied but Noel Mayberry, psychiatrist, and Bill Bradley, attorney, were not. There were too many loose ends, too many peculiarities such as the yo-yo, the designer butterfly pin whose wings formed two S's and the multitude of threatening letters and telephone calls before the crimes. So they took up where the law, seemingly under political pressure, had left off. And they found: The "Harpies," adolescent gangsters, rulers of the "Bobby-soxers," selling then nose candy, postcards and junk; Will Harris pop singer-- why, out of nowhere, his career had skyrocketed; photographer Chad Featherweel, convinced he was able to predict his subjects' fates: Henry and Diana Barber, father and daughter publishing magnates, determined to cover-up almost anything in order to safeguard "Pulse" magazine's state.

And as the Bradley and Mayberry team came closer to discovering the true murderer they were loathe to find another group of criminals -- hideous people -- inhuman in what they did.

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A Shroud for Grandmama

"...It is based on Jane Austen, with due credit unobtrusively given by Mr. Ashe (Pseudonym, John Franklin Bardin). The heroine, Abigail Longstreet, is the Jane Austenish young lady who lives under eerie circumstances, Abigail is forced out of her ivory tower into co-operation with a modern young man. The story turns into a Gothic tale of horror, but never horrible because of its graceful humor..."
-- Dorothy B. Hughes, The Albuquerque Tribune 7/20/51

"Ella Maybelle Longstreet, Grandmama, mistress of the vast Longstreet fortune, is discovered clad only in a bikini and dead in the two-storied hall of her mansion. Her feet are bare and dusty and the entire floor is covered with a thick layer of dust and there are "waltzing footprints leading through the spot on which she lay, but no other footprints or disturbance of the least anywhere."

Did Sybil, the Longstreet ghost place her there? Some of the family thinks so. There's Maude, Lizbeth, Oliver, Edward, Jasper, Shirly -- none of them particularly liked Grandmama. She wasn't exactly generous during her life. She certainly could have made their lives much easier.

And none of them really appreciate Abigail, either. She was Ella's favorite granddaughter. And why should they? Now Abigail's the sole heir to the fortune!

Many curious things happen in the Longstreet mansion during Deputy Chief Stephen Eliot's investigation. What's an uncooked, but torn at and gnawed piece of prime rib roast of beef doing in the refrigerator? What is "foxglove" (digitalis) doing in people's tea? -- Who put it in the tea canister, really now? Why was there only a shroud, no other clothes whatsoever in Grandmama's closet?

Look out for the family skeletons!

A Review of "Grandmama" Can Be Found At Pretty Sinister Books: http://prettysinister.blogspot.com

A Shroud For Grandmama Corgi Cover: https://www.flickr.com/photos/16186640@N05/4207490838/

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So Young to Die

It was almost love at first sight for Betty Lou Wright and Hal Crandell:

"...He had met Betty Lou at the beach that precious September, toward one evening on one of the last hot days -- she had come out of the water slowly, the sun at her back making a long shadow, tossing her wet, dark hair as she took off her swimming cap, already looking at him before he was aware of her, already knowing what it took him another week to know, already choosing him."

Betty Lou was a junior at Ludlow's big high school on Sycamore Hill. Harold "Hal" Crandall was a senior. She told him she was pregnant by him that fall:

"...he had borrowed her family's car to take her to a dance buy then she had said let's just talk and it had all come out -- when he had listened to her and had known then how much he loved her and was still afraid to say it, was even afraid to look at his own Betty Lou -- changed! -- he had begun to think about all the problems that they would have in the months ahead. He had seen it all clearly then and he had told Betty Lou about it"

Three months later, off the side of a road in a gully, Betty Lou Wright was found dead.

She died of asphyxia, but her body was also bloodied and badly broken.

Bryan Pemberton, Ludlow's public prosecutor, was certain Hal had killed her, but Betty Lou was not just his son's baby-sitter, and he was up for reelection that year -- was it in Prosecutor Penberton's interest to find a killer quickly?

Lieutenant Mike Grove, an honest yet busted cop, didn't agree with Pemberton's rapid assessment. Neither did Betty Lou's distraught father Harry, nor the young obstetrician, Dr. Thomas Russell.

Betty Lou had written two notes the day she died. Before her killer became apparent two more people died, shattering Ludlow.

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Christmas Comes but Once a Year

"Jamey awoke for the last time in the land of the elephants. Joy, like a tiny pain that did not really hurt, kept him company. The land was already gray with morning. The elephants were all in their cages. Jamey felt safe and glad.

As a good elephant should, he sat up carefully in his cage. The bedclothes stayed tight around his knees. Jamey had to be good this morning. The doctor and Nurse Clark-- and even Nurse Evans -- had said he could go home today, all the way home to stay, all the way home for Christmas, if he was sure to be a good boy. His back ached, but that was all right. His back usually ached now, and his arms and legs, and his middle. If they hurt too much, he was to ask for an injection."

With the doctors' consent, Jamey's parents are taking him home for "Christmas". Not yet five, he doesn't know about dates and seasons, so the celebration will be possible -- it is too long until the real Christmas.

Jamey call his special holiday "the best Christmas never". In order to meet the immense medical expenses, Jamey's parents Bob and Dorothy Lewis, reluctantly agree to let the research foundation publicize Jamey's special day.

This irritates the already strained family, and all sorts of problems ensue.

After everything, however, Jamey gets to have his "Christmas," and it is completely satisfying to him.

"And then Jamey knew that he had been all mixed up. He had been too tired and he had lain down and he had gotten all mixed up. But he was all right now. In a moment he would sit up and he would open some more boxes.

He did sit up. It was dark and he did not understand why it was dark. He saw Nurse Clark. She dropped her book and gave a little cry. She ran out of the room.

He was alone and afraid.

It was dark and he knew that if he looked around he would see the black, swoopy thing that was always right there at the edge of night. He could feel its wings as they beat the air. He could smell the dust, feel the coldness.


"I'm here, Jamey. Right by your side. "And so is your dad."

"I'm here, Jamey."

He saw them. They had just come in. And he saw the biggest elephant, nodding his head and winking his pink glass eye. He was safe.

"Is it still Christmas?"

He saw dad glance at mommy. Mommy shook her head. "Was it a good Christmas, Jamey?"

"It was the best Christmas never." He was feeling tired again, but there was something else he had to know. "Will tomorrow be Christmas?"

"No Jamey."

"When will it be Christmas again, mommy?"

"Not until next year, a long, long time."

"It won't ever be Christmas again until next year?"

"No, son."

Jamey understood it at last. "But it was the best Christmas never. I don't care if it isn't ever Christmas again. It couldn't ever -- never -- be a better Christmas -- ever -- "

Mommy and dad did not understand. You could talk and talk to grownups and they did not understand. But the biggest elephant was nodding his head and flapping his ears. He winked his pink glass eye. He understood.

Jimmy went to sleep in the land of the elephants.


Bardin Lore -- John said that this novel sprang from his fears that he would not be a satisfactory father. It was the second of his "serious" novels.


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Purloining Tiny

"Bizarre, wicked and wonderful. I enjoyed every macabre and compelling page." -- Dorothy Salisbury Davis

All right. Imagine this. Try out for kinkiness.

You're a beautiful, slightly nutty woman whom equally nutty men follow around. Men who sometimes go so far as to rent a Madison Avenue apartment almost directly across the way, so that they can spy on you when your sunbathing nude on the terrace of your penthouse. Your name is Tiny, Weird, I admit, but that's your name. And you're the key part of a dynamic duo that includes your famous stepfather, a Carnagie Hall Magician, Who throws knives at you and never misses. Never gets you that is. Who shuts you inside the Iron Maiden. You don't much like these things, but it's an age of violence. The only way to fill a hall is to promise them danger, stir their blood, You're a Supreme Contortionist. And men lust after you to escape, and your death. They wonder how you'll escape they want you to escape. But also wonder what those spikes in the Iron Maiden would feel like, pricking that lovely white flesh of yours.

But you've come up against another contortionist. And this one is creepo from the word go. This one has purchased an entire floor in your apartment building, almost directly below yours (he got tired being so far away from you, spying through binocs). He's hired an interior decorator to furnish it entirely in white.

And you're suck there, Tiny. You've been kidnapped. In your own apartment building. You're a Key Part all right, but now there aren't any keys. This madman thinks you're his long lost daughter. No more sexy clothes for you, Tiny. Nothing but white now. White dresses. And mary janes, that are too small for you. The window glass is unbreakable. There are no knobs on the door, and he's the only one who has a keycard to get in and out. And while an entire city drops its mouth in astonishment at your disappearance, Daddy is taking off your clothes and spanking you forcing you to repent your wicked, wicked ways on the stage.

And when Tiny nearly does Daddy in, and disobeys him, and the only friend she has is tossed out a window by Daddy, from pretty high up, then it's time for Tiny to get into the Iron Maiden again. For good.

Creepy? Kinky? You bet. And so much better, really, than Fowles THE COLLECTOR. In a previous REAL PAPER BOOK QUARTERLY I urged upon you THE JOHN FRANKLIN BARDIN OMNIBUS, a Penguin paperback. Which includes three of the most bizarrely compelling novels about schizophrenics I've ever read.

Bardin is still writing, thank God. And PURLOINING TINY is doomed, I fear, to become another sleeper. Unless you kinky readers out there rescue it. The novel, that is. There's no rescuing Tiny. Not now. Not after what she does.
-- Lee Grove THE REAL PAPER, June 24, 1978


Bardin Lore -- John wrote this novel at the beginning of the second time he lived in Manhattan's East Village. Other places he lived in his beloved New York City included Greenwich Village, of course, and 110th St. near Amsterdam Ave.


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Last Updated April 27, 2020.