Devil Take the Blue-Tail Fly (1948) by John Franklin Bardin

This is the final novel in the Bardin omnibus that I bought last year. Both of my last two reads, The Deadly Percheron (1947) and The Last of Philip Banter (1947), have given me high expectations with this author, but had they perhaps set the bar too high? Let’s find out…

Musical performer, Ellen Purcell, is finally released from a mental health hospital, having been committed there for two years. Understandably she has the usual anxieties with leaving, as well as the joys. She is keen to be back with her husband, Basil, a conductor. But will things have changed given how long they have been apart? The backstory to her psychological troubles is teased out over the book in a fragmented and disjointed fashion; the raggedness of it increasing as Ellen’s thoughts unravel. Equally there is a new narrative which intrudes the text from time to time that is only really made sense of at the end. Aside from marital difficulties – Is Basil having an affair?, Ellen also has to face getting herself back into shape musically, as well as face blasts from the past.

Overall Thoughts

Despite my synopsis, which suggests an experimental nature to the text, this is bizarrely Bardin’s least surreal, most conventional story, in my opinion. In fact it takes quite a while into the book before any out of the ordinary begins to happen, which contrasts with his earlier novels which shove you down the rabbit hole within a matter of pages. Equally these prior works tended to set off firework-like twists throughout the story, yet the dramatic incidences which occur in today’s read are far and few between and felt much more like a whimper. The ending is perhaps the exception to this comment, but its power to shock is dampened by the weight of depressing material the book contains, alongside its much slower pace. To be honest I got to this point in the book and really didn’t care all that much what happened.

I think Bardin was trying to do something different in this book, in comparison to his previous literary efforts; arguably a variation on Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s ‘The Yellow Wallpaper’ (1892), but for me at any rate it was not much of a success. In his attempt to obfuscate the mental state of Ellen, we never get much of a handle on her and therefore struggle to sympathise with her in a more than perfunctory sort of way. The theme which interested me the most was how Ellen’s marriage becomes a place to explore the gendered battle over creative expression. Both are professionals in their own right, yet it seems as though Basil would much rather his wife worked less at hers. There is a definite sense of rivalry there.

I appreciate most of my issues with this book are highly subjective ones, but I still feel it is the sort of novel which leaves you on a downer. It is decidedly my least favourite of the three, so would unsurprisingly recommend checking out his earlier titles before trying this one.

Rating: 3.5/5

Just the Facts Ma’am (Silver Card): Because Simon Says

Calendar of Crime: December (7) Book Title Has Word Starting with D

2 comments

  1. I’ve read a relatively detailed synopsis of this in a best of list and it does sound like it could be quite depressing. However based on your recommendations of the first two titles I ordered this omnibus yesterday – not that I’ll be reading it any time soon as my TBR pile continues to grow.

    Liked by 1 person

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