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Prelude To A Certain Midnight by Gerald Kersh

A sex killer haunts the afternoon fog of 1930s London. He is on the prowl, looking for a schoolgirl. This monster, in turn, is being hunted. Detective Inspector ‘Dick’ Turpin understands the psychology of his prey, but is more adept at finding habitual criminals than sex murderers. So it is up to formidable do-gooder Miss Asta Thundersley to poke her nose into the investigation. She is a habitué of the Bar Bacchus and believes one of the regulars is the killer, invites them all to a party and laces each one with alcohol to loosen their tongues.

Could the murderer be Amy Dory, a masochistic beauty whose eyes have become like ‘a couple of cockroaches desperately swimming in two saucers of boiled rhubarb?’ Is it Mr Pink, a demented theologian who translates the Bible into modern tough-guy slang? Is it Tom Beano, a freethinker, who once tried to overthrow the Salvation Army? Or is it one of the dozens of others who fill the Bar Bacchus?

Gerald Kersh places his story in bohemian London, peoples it with artists and criminals and dresses it in the mystery genre, but his real concern is to find the hungry beast that lurks within every person. First published in 1947, in the aftermath of the Second World War, the author is driven by his fury at the atrocities committed by Nazi Germany, reflected here in the rape and murder of a child as the conflict looms. Prelude To A Certain Midnight is classic Kersh, full of outrage and cutting satire, but with enough punch to leave you with a bloodied mouth.

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