Gerald Kersh, Kickass British Noir Crime Novelist

I never knew there was such a thing as British crime noir fiction! Amazing. Gerald Kersh was said to be one Hell of a writer, but he’s almost completely forgotten.

From an early work, Night and the City, written in 1938 when he was only 27 years old. Centers around seedy London districts, mostly around Piccadilly Square. Characters are criminals, pimps, thieves, blackmailers, con artists, bar owners, gamblers, bookies, etc.

Check out this kickass noir crime novel prose:

“He had highly developed intuitions, proceeding from long and cumulative experience of the customs of the City. I have mentioned how he could appraise a footstep. He could, by a similar method of spontaneous reasoning, read a face, interpret an expression, calculate how much money you were in the habit of spending, or even decide by the look of you which restaurant or café you would probably frequent.

He saw London as a kind of Inferno – a series of concentric areas with Picadilly Circus as the ultimate center.”

“Bagrag’s Cellar is a dragnet through which the undercurrent of night life continually filters. It is choked with low organisms, pallid and distorted, unknown to the light of day, and not to be tolerated in healthy society . . . .

Half-exhausted people throw up spasms of febrile energy: they rise in groups without purpose, move round, then sink back again, like stirred-up filth on the bottom of a pond. . .To take a deep breath in Bagrag’s Cellar, now, is like inhaling the combined vapors of a distillery, a dosshouse, and a burning tobacco factory.”

“This woman had something about her that was indescribably terrifying.

Imagine the death mask of Julius Caesar, plastered with rouge, and stuck with a pair of eyes as small, as flat, and as bright as newly cut cross sections of .38-caliber bullets; marked with eyebrows that ran together in a straight black bar: and surmounted by a million diabolical black hairs that sprang in a nightmarish cascade up out of her skull, like a dark fountain of accumulated wickedness squeezed out by the pressure of her corsets.”

“Now, my precious; people love to see other people behaving like idiots, but not seeing themselves doing the same thing. No mirrors except in the lavatories, and there we’re going to have pink mirrors, see?. . .They mustn’t see ’emselves in their true colors, my love. When they go out to be sick, let ’em look as if they’re having a good time.”

“Vi yawned, and from between her pale, painted lips there proceeded a breath such as might come from a pathological specimen in a jar, when the alcohol is evaporating. . . Her head against the pillow was a study in all the indefinable pale colors of debauch.

The pillow case was gray, but Vi’s face was grayer, tinged with the chlorotic greeny-yellow of anemia. Rubbed smears of yesterday’s rouge gave emphasis to this pallor. Under the laid-on red, her lips were pale pink, and her teeth appeared yellow in the daylight.

The penciled lines of her eyebrows had been rubbed off on to the blanket; the metallic green paint with which she colored her eyelids had become mixed with the blue mascara of her lashes, in an unearthly and poisonous bruise color picked out with flecks of silver. This was trickling down into the hollows of her eyes. One of her false eyelashes had come loose, and swung precariously against her cheek as she blinked. She seemed to be liquefying, falling to pieces.”

“Every film he had ever seen, and every book he had ever read, rushed together in his brain to form one blazing and magnificent composite, in which he, Fabian, fantastically enlarged, fantastically dressed, leaned backwards in a wild photomontage of champagne bubbles, limousines, diamonds, galloping horses, baize tables, and beautiful women; all whirling and weaving in a deluge of white and yellow chips, and large bank notes; an eternal reduplication of breasts and legs of very conceivable shape, size, and color.”

“What was it? Was it that, for the first time in his life, he had become aware of the appalling burden of accumulating lies with which he loaded his soul from hour to hour–the closing coils of deceit which he spun about himself day after day?

There passed through his mind a vision of life free from vanity, fiction, and subterfuge. . .a bygone period in his life when black was black and white was white; when one sinned, and confessed, and breathed again. ‘Why do I always have to start these tales? They aren’t necessary!’ he said to himself.”

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4 thoughts on “Gerald Kersh, Kickass British Noir Crime Novelist”

  1. Thanks for that. Sounds good. I hadn’t heard of him. Mask Noir seem to publish mostly English (and mostly London) nouveau noir titles. I read a few of them because in the pre-internet days my favourite bookshop had lots of them for next to nothing. There’s a collection called London Noir, which I owned for years but I can’t remember if I read any of it. They’re usually ok but forgettable. They seem to have a heavy sprinkling of lesbian crime novels too, and also publish Walter Mosley, who I think may be a good contender for the best post WWII writer, and Manuel Velazquez Montalban, a Spanish communist detective writer who is also a major talent and should definitely appeal to you Robert.

    Amazon – Mask Noir titles
    Maxim Jabukowski (ed.) – London Noir (collection)
    Graeme Gordon – Bayswater Bodycount
    Montalban – Southern Seas
    Montalban – Murder in the Central Committee

  2. LOOK IN YOUR SPAM FOLDER – I posted something with a lot of links to English noir writers.

  3. Sounds awesome. I see Night and the City was made into a movie by Jules Dassin. It’s in the Criterion Collection.

    Thanks for the suggestions, LS. I love this kind of stuff.

  4. The Mask Noir series was published by the British publisher;s ‘ Serpent’s Tail ‘(no doubt ultimately owned by one of the biggies). The Mask Noir series doesn’t seem to be ongoing. Serpent’s Tail now publish them under their own name. Their website is very nicely laid out and their range of books is fascinating.

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