Friday, July 11, 2014

FFB: Twisted Clay - Frank Walford

Jean Deslines is worried about losing her identity.  Her father keeps talking about putting her away in a mental institution for her own safety. Jean has been bragging about her flirty seduction of the local clergyman in her Australian home of Katoomba. She's also been reading up on psychology books at the suggestion of her cousin Myrtle who knows a psychosexual aberration when she sees one. Now Jean's head is overloaded with Freudian psychoanalytical jargon and discussions of female hormones, the lack of which she believes is at the root of her troubles. She's also starting to have surreal dreams in which she envisions a female gladiator who takes the form of the goddess Minerva slaughtering her enemies. And every now and then she hears the sounds of bells and an ethereal voice giving her private instructions on carrying out the murderous events in her dreams. Is it any wonder her father is worried about her? Oh, I forgot to mention Jean is only fifteen years old.

To preserve her identity and prevent any tinkering with her mind and soul at the hands of interfering psychiatrists Jean is advised by that Voice to murder her father. And she does so in a lovingly savage way. It's the beginning of her descent into a surreal world of hallucinations, indulgent sexuality and violent murderous attacks. Imagine if you will a most bizarre mix of the selfish child murderess Rhoda Penmark, vindictive pathological liar Mary Tilford, and seductive teen age vixen Lolita and you have only a smidgen of an idea of what Frank Walford has created in Jean Deslines. It's difficult to believe that a fifteen year old girl is narrating this lurid tale of madness, pansexuality and brutal murder. Jean may very well be crime fiction's first bisexual serial killer.  Oh, I forgot to mention that Twisted Clay was published in 1933.

Frank Walford
This week Patti Abbot Asked us to read a book about a femme fatale. Though typically we don't find a femme fatale this young until the pulp writers of the 1950s in books by writers like Gil Brewer, Day Keene and Jonathan Craig and most of them aren't clinically insane Jean Deslines is about as fatal a femme as you can find in the genre fiction of the 1930s. So horrific are the events described in Walford's book it was banned almost immediately upon publication and remained out of print for decades. Modern readers will find so many of what is now considered formulaic in serial killer literature and yet no one was writing about such things in Walford's time. Even Lawrence Block didn't write about a serial killer prostitute until 2012's Getting Off and even then he used his lesbian erotica pseudonym Jill Emerson. Walford was way ahead of his time in creating his surreally intellectual, linguistically gifted and very dangerous teenager. Way, way ahead.

Twisted Clay has been reissued by Australian British indie press Salt Publishing under their horror imprint Remains Classics in a handsomely designed facsimile of the original first edition complete with replication of the original dust jacket. The book comes with a foreward by Remain's editor Johnny Mains as well as a biographical and literary introduction to Frank Walford by critic and supernatural fiction maven Jim Doig. It's a fine reissue of a landmark book in the genre. Highly recommended for literary connoisseurs, genre fiction addicts and anyone curious about those obscure books that sometimes reach legendary status due to their unavailability. This is one instance when the legend cannot even approach the actual content of the book.

For more wicked women, amoral temptresses, and literary femme fatales in forgotten books of the past visit Patti Abbot's blog.


  1. Thanks for the fine review, John. One correction - Salt is in fact a British publisher.

    1. Oops. I was on the road and was doing some quick internet surfing while I had wi-fi. Guess I was working too quickly towards the end. Thanks for the correction. I've fixed my error.

  2. I think I knew of the existence of this but heard of it so long ago I'd forgotten most of the details. This really IS "Friday's Forgotten Book" and thank you for bringing it back to us -- it sounds important and significantly ground-breaking.

  3. James is correct Salt are from the UK, I've met Johnny he is a nice fellow, he was also responsible for bringing out the reprint of the Pan Book of Horror. For Salt he published the best British Horror.

    Salt is an odd publisher, poetry, literary fiction & studies and a lot more. Worth a look.

    The book Twisted Clay, sounds intriguing, another one on the want list. Thanks

    On a slightly different note, I picked up a copy of Dark Entries by Robert Aickman in the new Faber and Faber re-issues (lovely book.), Cold hand in Mine had sold out which is good news but means I have to wait for it to be re-ordered.

    As for Aickamn, British Pathe put a lot of old newsreels on Youtube and you can see him on several, most notably he can be seen Barge Rally 1961. The place I gleaned this information from was on Johnny Mains website on blogger, he has a list of films on Aickman and MR James post 19 April 2014.



  4. James Doig and I corresponded about this book last year, because it was published and much ballyhooed in the U. S. by Claude Kendall, about whom I wrote at The Passing Tramp. I had the same reaction John did and will be blogging about it too!

  5. Never heard of Twisted Clay, but this is an absolutely fascinating review of a book that sounds quite extraordinary for its time. As for Aickman, I'm reading him at present, and full of admiration.

  6. Thanks for this John - it's really appreciated and cannot wait to see what The Passing Tramp says!