Friday 1 March 2019

Forgotten Book - Purloining Tiny

John Franklin Bardin was an American author whose brief career would have been deeply obscure had it not been for the advocacy of Julian Symons. Symons praised Bardin's first three novels in Bloody Murder, and in the mid-Seventies facilitated their being reprinted as a Penguin omnibus volume, which I devoured as soon as I could lay my hands on it. I shared Symons' enthusiasm for Bardin's work. The three books are very interesting examples of psychological suspense writing in the aftermath of the Second World War - pre-dating Patricia Highsmith, among many others.

The attention that the omnibus gained seems to have galvanised Bardin to resume his writing career in earnest, and he published another crime novel in 1978, with the characteristically odd title of Purloining Tiny. However, it wasn't a success, and copies are hard to find. It's only in relatively recent times that I've had the chance to read it.

The book has attracted one or two enthusiastic admirers over the years, and Dorothy Salisbury Davis said that it was "bizarre, wicked and wonderful". It also bears, on the back cover, a rather carefully worded blurb from Stanley Ellin, who described it as "certainly one of the strangest mystery tales I have ever read." As he says, the story focuses on "the perverse and shadowy wish-fulfillments of its astonishing characters". These are, it has to be said, not exactly words of undiluted praise.

I think Ellin got it right. It's a very odd book, about a glamorous young woman, a famous contortionist no less, who is kidnapped and held captive in an apartment by her long-lost father. At the time, I suspect it was seen as a cutting-edge example of a crime novel involving kinky sex. As with the earlier Bardin books, but to an even greater extent, incestuous desires play an important part in the story. For me, it simply didn't work. Really, it reads like an over-the-top pastiche of those early, intriguing novels. A major disappointment, I'm sorry to say.


Richard Moore said...

I picked up a copy for $4.00 about 1980 having loved the three novels published in that omnibus paperback. I could never successfully enter the world of Tiny and after a try or two gave up. He also wrote to novels as "Gregory Tree" and have one in paperback (So Young to Die) but I confess I've never tried it.

Richard Moore

Martin Edwards said...

I've read one of the Tree novels, Richard, a very long time ago, but can recall nothing about it, which perhaps speaks for itself.