RARA-AVIS: Kersh & miker

From: Moorich2@aol.com
Date: 04 Dec 2002

Mike, I've enjoyed your review of Gerald Kersh's PRELUDE TO A CERTAIN MIDNIGHT and the broader look at Kersh's career. You credit Paul Duncan's web site for much of the Kersh background. Duncan was a participant of this list but must have dropped off or he would have commented by now. He certainly knows more about Kersh than anyone I know.

Before I go further, I heartily recommend Duncan's brief UK-published NOIR FICTION, DARK HIGHWAYS (Pocket Essentials 2000) as it contains brief but sharp takes on many writers now under discussion on this list including Kersh, John Franklin Bardin, James Ellroy, Nathaniel West as well as Cain, Goodis, Willeford, and a host of others.

Now back to Kersh. It has been more than a quarter of a century since I read PRELUDE and my memory is hazy but ***(Caution for Spoiler)*** I didn't have the foggiest notion of who the murderer was when I finished. But I loved the book. One other friend read it and hated it for that very reason. She needed closure. In NOIR FICTION Duncan notes that the only "winner" of the book was the murderer. Love it or hate it.

***(Conclude spoiler warning section)***

As to the ascertain that Kersh's career was damaged by the novel THE GREAT WASH, I doubt it. The novel was IMO a failure but I enjoyed it as I am a sucker for what Ted White first termed "paranoid science fiction." A recent televison example would be "The X-files." In the US, Kersh's novel was published by Ballentine as THE SECRET MASTERS, and was about the fifth SF novel published by Ballentine. I say that even though looking at my copy, it was labeled "A brilliant suspense novel." A shorter version was also published by the Saturday Evening Post, a big money outfit that loved Kersh for years after this novel.

The fact is that THE SECRET MASTERS was not very good but then neither were the novels THE SONG OF THE FLEA (1948) and THE THOUSAND DEATHS OF MR. SMALL
(1950). Kersh hit the skids financially and otherwise because of a wife problem later in the 50s. He considered his best novel to be FOWLER'S END

Forgetting his attempts at literature (which were successful now and then), I love his storytelling ability and I think that is best demonstrated in his shorter work. Look for the relatively common collections ON AN ODD NOTE
(Ballantine 1958), MEN WITHOUT BONES (Paperback Library 1962), and the Harlan Ellison edited NIGHTMARES & DAMNATIONS (Fawcett Gold Medal 1968). Many of the stories within these books fit within the crime field, often noir and often with the same odd touch that Roald Dahl managed in his stories. I especially recommend the short novel "Clock Without Hands" that you will find in MEN WITHOUT BONES.

Kersh is one of those writers who I would have loved to have spent a few evenings with at some congenial bar. By all accounts, he was a larger than life figure and a cane in one hand and a drink in the other, he could hold court like few others.

 Richard Moore

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