Gerald Kersh wrote extensively about the underside of London society (the gamblers, hustlers, prostitutes, pimps, psychopathic killers, drug dealers, and bohemians), as well as about his military experience during World War II in the Coldstream Guards. Effective as some of his writing is in these areas, Kersh will most likely be remembered for his highly imaginative and very diverse mystery stories. His body of fiction—some twenty novels, approximately fifteen volumes of short stories, a number of uncollected fiction pieces—though quite uneven, contains many eloquent and highly polished passages and some that approach brilliance. In spite of a modest formal education, he was well-read and possessed of enormous curiosity about the world and its past history. At his best, Kersh suggests the verbal dexterity and aphoristic deftness of a variety of masters of English prose style: Oliver Goldsmith, Edgar Allan Poe, Robert Louis Stevenson, and O. Henry. Occasionally too, when Kersh is in particularly good literary form, a hilarious comic sequence may suddenly appear, calling attention to the wide range of his literary talents. Through a number of well-crafted short stories and at least one brilliantly wrought novel, The Great Wash (1953; published in the United States as The Secret Masters), Kersh brought new distinction to the tradition of the mystery story.
Calcutt, Andrew, and Richard Shephard. Cult Fiction: A Reader’s Guide. Lincolnwood, Ill.: Contemporary Books, 1999. Kersh is one of the authors whose lives and careers are summarized in this dictionary of cult fiction.
Horsley, Lee. The Noir Thriller. New York: Palgrave, 2001. Scholarly, theoretically informed study of the thriller genre. Includes readings of Kersh’s Night and the City and Prelude to a Certain Midnight.
Moorcock, Michael. Introduction to Fowler’s End. London: Harvill, 2001. The famous science-fiction author of the Eternal Champion series discusses Kersh’s novel and his literary career.
Moore, Lewis D. Cracking the Hard-Boiled Detective: A Critical History from the 1920’s to the Present. Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland, 2006. Detailed study of both the American and the British versions of the hard-boiled detective; provides perspective on Kersh’s writing. Bibliographic references and index.
Symons, Julian. Bloody Murder: From the Detective Story to the Crime Novel—A History. 3d ed. New York: Mysterious Press, 1993. Symons, a successful mystery author in his own right, argues that mystery fiction evolved over time from being concerned with the figure of the detective and the methods of detection to a primary focus on the nature of crime and criminality. Sheds light on Kersh’s works.