Friday, 27 November 2009

Forgotten Book - The Last of Philip Banter


I can never resist a book with a truly intriguing premise, and The Last of Philip Banter boasts one of the best, making it a worthy entrant in Patti Abbot's catalogue of Forgotten Books. It is one of three novels of psychological suspense which John Franklin Bardin wrote between 1946 and 1948, and although they did not attract too much attention at the time, the advocacy of that great critic Julian Symons ensured that they reached a wider readership over the years.

Symons seems to have managed to persuade Penguin Books to put together The John Franklin Bardin Omnibus (to which he contributed an introduction) in 1976. I was a student at the time and this was one of the few books, other than pricey legal textbooks, that I bought, rather than borrowed from a library. I definitely was not disappointed. The Deadly Percheron and Devil Take the Blue-Tail Fly are, perhaps, more admired than The Last of Philip Banter, but nevertheless it is the less celebrated book for which I have an especially soft spot.

Philip Banter is an advertising man with marriage trouble and a drink problem. He finds a typed manuscript on his office desk, apparently typed by himself, which confuses past and future. It describes what is going to happen as though it had happened already. Then the ‘predictions’ start to come true….

It’s a gripping concept, and a fluently written novel. In later years, Bardin (1916-1981) wrote a few more crime novels under pseudonyms, but they didn’t compare in intensity to the three early books. But I share Symons’ admiration for his work.

6 comments:

Philip said...

I am delighted to read this post. Julian Symons' recollection of Denis Healey's recommendation of Bardin sent me to the splendid omnibus edition many years ago, and I've been inserting plugs for Bardin wherever possible ever since. A very significant writer indeed, with a very strong claim to be the first psychological crime novelist.

Margot Kinberg said...

Martin - The Last of Philip Banter really does seem to have an intriguing plot. I've read other novels that make use of the blur between past and present (e.g. The Gears' Anasazi series explores an ancient set of crimes and shifts back and forth between the time the crimes were committed and the present day, when they are solved). This novel's use of time, though, seems very, very creative. Thanks for sharing this book.

Evan Lewis said...

All new info to me, and as a one-time advertising man, I can relate. Thanks for the tip.

George said...

You're right about Bardin's work being forgotten. Other than that Julian Symons' omnibus edition of his work, none of Bardin's books show up on the radar. THE LAST OF PHILIP BANTER captures some of quirkiness of the advertising industry.

Maxine said...

I have that very edition, bought at the time it came out and now very battered and old, on my shelf! (the cover image is very spooky, I thought at the time) I adored these three novels (and the intro, being a Symons fan), and decided to keep the book as I might read them again one day. Maybe that day has come.....

Nice post, Martin!

Martin Edwards said...

Thanks for these comments. Philip and Maxine - fascinating to hear you have the very same edition!
I'm sure those of you who haven't read the book would find it intriguing and well worth seeking out.