Dr. George Matthews, New York psychiatrist, has a new patient, well-to-do young man named Jacob Blunt. Blunt has a good reason for visiting a shrink: he thinks he’s going crazy. Although he doesn’t need the money, he’s begun working for a leprechaun who pays him a dollar a day to wear a specific flower in his hair. Another leprechaun pays him to give away quarters to strangers. Dr. Matthews, naturally, is inclined to agree with his new patient: he is crazy.
The Jacob asks him if he’d like to meet one of the leprechauns, who turns out to be surprisingly real, though not a real leprechaun. He’s a little person, a former circus performer, and he says Jacob hired him. Before Matthews can sort all this out, he’s off on another job, to deliver a percheron – a kind of draft horse – to a well-known actress.
That night the actress is killed, and a drunken Blunt is found banging on the door of her apartment building, the percheron tied to a lamppost. Matthews is summoned to bail him out, but then, on a subway platform, he falls…
…and wakes up ten months later in an insane asylum, where his name is John Brown.
First, forget about the terrible title. It has only a slight relationship to the book itself, as the percherons (yes, there are two of them) are mostly incidental to the plot. This book is an entry in the “innocent victim or manic killer” genre, of which there are not nearly enough, and it keeps you guessing almost to the last page.
It is in fact very similar to Joel Townsley Rogers’ The Red Right Hand, though it doesn’t have the manic narrative style of that book, and because the middle section of Percheron doesn’t have the urgency of the rest of the book. In addition, in Rogers’ book it’s left unstated that the evidence points to the narrator himself as the killer, though it’s clear to everyone – the narrator, the police, and most especially the reader. Bardin’s book is much less subtle.
But it’s still a great book! The fact that it suffers by comparison to maybe the best book in its class isn’t a knock; it’s a superior example of its type.