From: Robison Michael R CNIN ( Robison_M@crane.navy.mil)
Date: 02 Dec 2002

With Hitler in power and a dark cloud of war gathering over Europe, a ten year old Jewish girl is discovered raped and murdered in the coal cellar of a rotten, abandoned house in London. With the police investigation stalled for lack of clues, Asta Thundersley, an eccentric crusader for the rights of the downtrodden, takes up the challenge. A strange, motley cast of characters and suspects are introduced, with a secret plan to discover the murderer in the end.

The novel is a dark portrayal of lives crushed by despair and hopelessness, with a main character obsessed with their pain and misery. The story demonstrates the ineffectiveness of one person to make a difference, partly because of flaws in their character, and partly because of apathy on the part of the greater population. The miseries of the unfortunate are repeatedly portrayed as entertainment for those more fortunate. In all of the above, the book closely parallels Nathanael West's MISS LONELYHEARTS. The bizarre cast of grotesque characters and the drunken party at the end is distinctly reminiscent of West's DAY OF THE LOCUST.

The theme seems to point towards the futility of attempting to do anything to improve the sad state of mankind. However, an alternative theme is presented in a curious dialogue between Asta and Inspector Turpin. Turpin explains the dangers of masochistic submission to the brutality of another, explaining that it serves to increase the need for more violence. At the end of the conversation Asta summarizes what he says:

 "...everyone who enjoys being hurt adds to the cruelty of the world."
   Extrapolating, it's possible that Kersh is setting forth a theme that pacifism and apathy in the face of malevolent violence only serves to encourage more violence, and that those who do not actively stand against violence are soaking their hands in the same blood as the actual perpetrators.

Gerald Kersh was born in 1911 in England. Kersh showed a talent for writing at an early age, and from the moment he entered his teens, he was commited to writing. He worked at various side jobs to feed himself, including bodyguard, cook, and travelling salesman, and acquired a reputation as a street fighter. He had a hatchet scar on his forehead, a knife slash on his wrist, and tooth marks on his knuckles. He published his first book, JEWS WITHOUT JEHOVAH, in 1934. It received good reviews. He worked as a correspondent for the BBC in 1936, and in 1938 his second novel, NIGHT IN THE CITY, was published. Possibly influenced by the rising tide of American crime literature, it was even more popular than the first one. Aside from his novels, Kersh produced many short stories, many of them dealing with crime. The most popular of these was a series of 17, started in 1936, involving a master criminal named Karmesin. As a footnote, these largely uncollected stories are slated for publishing by Crippen and Landru.

In 1940 he entered military service and one night, while on leave, he was buried alive in the London Blitz. He came out of that with a damaged knee and wrote THEY DIED WITH THEIR BOOTS CLEAN in 1941. Along with articles for several papers, Kersh also wrote influential war propaganda from 1940 to 1946 for The People Sunday newspaper. In 1947 PRELUDE TO A CERTAIN MIDNIGHT was published.

Kersh continued to write but fell into disfavor with the critics in 1953 with THE GREAT WASH, his only science fiction novel. A messy divorce in 1955 made matters worse, but he rebounded, marrying again and moving to a remote are in New York, and won the Edgar Allan Poe award from the Mystery Writers of America for a short story. Kersh died in 1968.

Note: Paul Duncan's web site is the source of most of the biographical information.


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