Gerald Kersh has long been one of my favorite British writers. Night and the City, later made into a classic film noir by Jules Dassin, Fowler's End, about a cinema in north London, are two of my particular favorites. Kersh is capable of transporting the reader back to an era that London barely exists any more, but is instantly recognizable, before exploring it as few others have done. In fact, one of the pleasures of reading Kersh is to follow not only his intertwining narratives but where those narratives take often the reader geographically. Like Patrick Hamilton, Norman Collins, the late Emmanuel Litminov and Alexander Baron, Kersh's books are hymns to London, not the obvious places but its seedy cafes, cinemas and suburbs. The Angel and the Cuckoo is probably Kersh's most dense book, yet it is arguably his funniest- its humor invariably dark- taking place as it does in a pre-WW2 demi-monde with artists, criminals, conmen, singers, film people and writers rubbing shoulders. It's comprised of three love stories, linked by Steve Zobrany, the proprietor of The Angel and the Cuckoo, a cafe at the end of Carnaby Street which is frequented by the characters degrees of loucheness, including Zobrany’s compatriot Gèza Cseh, who starts a busboy in Vienna, but mutates into Baron Cseh, then goes to Hollywood; Tom Henceforth (“Henceforth henceforth,” he announces proudly), "an artist without an art" who has an affection for various illegal activities; Perp, the godfather of the Brighton underworld; and a variety of crooks, tarts, con-men, and a hack writing an in-depth article entitled “Would I Live My Life Over Again?” While geographically the novel takes the reader from Poland Street in Soho through to Oxford Street, south to Blackfriars, to the Farringdon Road, then back to Carnaby Street.
This is another fine publication from London Books which comes with an informative introduction by Kersh biographer Paul Duncan, which alone is almost worth the price of the book. From it we learn that Kersh, who originally called the novel Poor Tom Henceforth, hoped the book, which he started writing in 1963, would be a success in America. In fact, he hadn't published a novel in the States since Fowler's End in 1957. This novel, his nineteenth, would be finished three years later, in 1966, and Kersh sent finished copies to the likes of Henry Miller, William Saroyan, Ellery Queen, JB Priestly, John Steinbeck and, strangely enough, Jane Fonda. However, even though Night and the City had sold over a million copies, The Angel and the Cuckoo would sell something like two-thousand. Yet it did receive a modicum of critical acclaim. Less than two years later Kersh would die from the cancer that had been eating away at him for some time. Long out of print, The Angel and the Cuckoo, though evoking a bygone era, has stood the test of time and, with its anarchic drift, so much more.
London-based journalist and author of Pulp Culture: Hardboiled Fiction and the Cold War; Neon Noir: Contemporary American Crime Fiction; and Heartbreak and Vine: The Fate of Hardboiled Writers in Hollywood.