The Best of Gerald Kersh (Faber Finds)

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Then they go to it again, ripping and tearing, burying their filthy heads in the carrion. Wave a stick at them and they stop, put on an expression of outraged respectability, and waddle away—only a few feet away—and stand equidistant from one another with every appearance of disinterestedness. One of them seems to be looking at his neighbour; another might be admiring the sunset; a third looks as if he is working out some deep dark metaphysical proposition.

But they are watching their carrion and you, and as soon as you turn your back there they are again, taking what they can while they can, bloody to the shoulders, but always decently covered in shiny shabby genteel mourning and ready at any moment to hop back and raise their wrinkled heads to heaven in silent ecstasies of injured innocence.

Busto the landlord was like that. Fifty years of watching and listening had given him a sort of second sight. But he did not live in the upper air: he lived in some dark place under the earth.

His room was in the basement. It was a converted wash-house. There he lived and slept and kept his accounts, and he knew the meaning of every sound in the house.

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He could interpret the inwardness of every intonation and the significance of every footstep. He could read the nervous defiance in the heavy stamping and loud laughter of the tenant who was trying to establish confidence in spite of an empty pocket. He was infallible in his assessment of true and false nonchalance, and might have written a monograph on Walking Downstairs. Some people walked quietly because it was their nature to do so, because they did not want to disturb their fellow men. Others, again, walked quietly because they were afraid: they had had experience of apartment houses, and were anxious to earn goodwill as nice quiet tenants; they walked flat-footed, firmly, slowly and with great care.

There was considerable difference between careful and stealthy descent. Then, of course, the footsteps paused for a second before coming on down. The landlord would be waiting. He knew. In the malodorous little passage, which to the haggard eyes of the departing tenant appeared to be a quarter of a mile long and strewn with nightmarish obstacles, Busto always appeared, blacker than the night in his black coat, hideous as a wizard in the light of a sixpenny paraffin lamp. You could not deceive him by running.

There is a remarkable difference between the sound of a man running in a hurry and that of a runner in a fright. Nothing can disguise it. Busto could have told you whether you were trying to get to a place or away from a place. A mad dash in the dead of night would not save you. He knew in advance what you intended; but the devil knows how he knew. He was a connoisseur of poverty. There are men who can guess your weight to an ounce: he could guess your means to a shilling.

Not only could he detect a lie—he could feel it coming, and had an unearthly way of knowing whether there was anything of value in your battered old fibre luggage. He could tell, by the way you carried it. His sombre, stuffy, cold, dank little room was full of suitcases confiscated and held in lieu of rent. Tears would not melt Busto; neither could promises impress him: he was beyond pity or faith. He knew his customers.

He knew that you were lying, to him or yourself, or both of you, when you swore with tears in your wide-open eyes that you had been promised a job on Thursday, or that you had at last persuaded your mother to send you a couple of pounds by Friday at the latest. Busto knew that on Thursday morning or Friday afternoon you would go out whistling, with a false grin on your hopeless face, leaving your bag in your room; and you would never come back.

Naturally, for your departure, you wore your best clothes and carried a clean shirt, if you had one, under your coat. He saw. His cold, soulless rheumy old eyes were full of deadly omniscience. Tenants had often tried to take their property away piece by piece … a shirt to-day, a pair of trousers to-morrow, a couple of books on Monday; but Busto observed what was taken out and what was brought back. He knew the contents of every room, down to the last handkerchief. So, having strode out humming or whistling, forcing your grin—which fell awry and went away like smoke in the open air—you wandered on your way and never came back.

Before selling what you had left he held it for a year.

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Sometimes, not often, you left something that he could not sell, and which therefore he kept. It would be difficult to imagine higher praise than some of these:. And here's Mr. Sinclair at Poe's tomb, taken while he himself was retracing Poe's steps in writing the book, in the s:. Saturday, August 24, J. Priestley, Salt is Leaving Our first two J. Priestley releases, Benighted and The Other Place , have been among our most popular titles so far this year.

I just finished reading the first of these, Salt is Leaving I've now read five of Priestley's books -- still only a small fraction of his prolific output -- but based on this sampling of his works, I strongly suspect he never wrote a bad book. Almost all of Priestley's novels were published by the firm of Heinemann, for whom he was one of their big three authors, along with Graham Greene and Somerset Maugham. Though 'paperback originals' -- that is, books whose original publication is in paperback rather than hardcover -- are commonplace today, they were less so in and certainly not common in the case of authors of Priestley's stature.


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So when Pan Books managed to wrest Priestley away from Heinemann for the paperback original Salt is Leaving , it must have been a real coup for them. The hero of Priestley's mystery is Dr Salt, who is desperate to leave the miserable industrial town of Birkden, where he practices as a GP. A middle-aged widower, somewhat irritable, and fond of cigars, whisky, books, and records, Salt has sold his practice and wants to head for tropical climes.

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But Salt is not leaving yet. Before he can go, he wants to know what happened to Noreen Wilks, a young patient of his who suffers from a rare kidney disorder. She hasn't been seen for three weeks, and Salt knows that without her regular course of medical treatment, she could die. The police aren't interested, assuming she's just another flighty young person who has run away, but Salt is convinced she's dead, perhaps even murdered. When her boyfriend shoots himself in the head, and another young woman and a rare bookseller both disappear as well, the plot thickens, but no one but Salt seems to want to do anything about it.

As Salt investigates, he finds himself threatened and discouraged on all sides, as seemingly everyone seems to want him to fulfill his original intention of leaving town I thoroughly enjoyed Salt is Leaving , though it is certainly not Priestley's best novel. Still, it's told throughout in his characteristic light, humorous style, and I quite liked the often-grumpy Salt, in whose love of whisky, pipe tobacco, classical music, and books one sees perhaps echoes of Priestley himself. Those who enjoy Priestley's other fiction, or who are fans of classic British murder mysteries, should find this one a good read.

Wednesday, July 31, E-books. Currently, all of our 20th century releases for which we have e-book rights are available on Amazon Kindle, but we're working hard to expand choices for our customers. We've published seven of our newest and most popular offerings for Kobo:. So far, the Wilson, Priestley, and Lewis titles have also been published for the Nook. We'll be continuing to add titles throughout the week.

We do not presently offer them through the Apple Store, though they can be viewed on Apple devices using the Kindle app.


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  • Please let us know if there are other places you'd like to see our e-books offered. Also, although we've been a publisher of print books for many years now, we are still fairly new to e-books. If you have any suggestions of how to improve our e-books in terms of formatting, features, etc. Tuesday, July 23, Forthcoming releases.

    Here are some of the releases we're working on for the remainder of and early We hope everyone will be as excited about some of these as we are!

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    Saturday, June 22, Greetings from Richmond! The Valancourt Books team has now relocated to Richmond, Virginia. Internet service is not yet active at the new Villa Valancourt, and our furniture and other things are still en route, so we apologize for any delays in responding to emails or updating the website for the next days or so.

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    Yesterday was the first day of summer, and we hope everyone's summer is off to a great start! We've released a ton of great new titles over the past several weeks and will be issuing many more in July, so you should have no shortage of great summer reading choices! Tuesday, June 11, A quick update. We hope everyone's summer is off to a great start! We have several new releases that should be on sale this week: Barry England's Booker-shortlisted military thriller slash existentialist nightmare, Figures in a Landscape , John Braine's second novel, The Vodi , which M.

    Those of you who have been following along for a while may remember that our releases from to early carried a Chicago imprint, while everything since then has been published from Kansas City. Starting later this month, you'll notice a new change, as we move ourselves and the press to Richmond, Virginia. We may also be a little slower than normal at responding to emails or Facebook, Twitter, and blog posts, as we'll be busy moving and unpacking.

    Thank you to all our readers out there who have been enjoying our new 20th century series and who have made the best year ever for Valancourt Books.