Ulcers in Floral Hats

PRELUDE TO A CERTAIN MIDNIGHT (249 pp.) ­Gerald Kersh­ Doubleday ($2.50)

One foggy afternoon in London, ten-year-old Sonia was lured into a vacant house, attacked, and choked to death. So begins Prelude to a Certain Midnight, the fifth novel by British Novelist Gerald Kersh (Sergeant Nelson of the Guards, Faces in a Dusty Picture). For a few pages Kersh fiddles around the psychological fringes of the crime, then he runs through a roster of gaudy suspects.

Among others there are Sir Storrington Thirst ("he had a habit of laying his hands upon you"); mannish Asta Thundersley (she collects...

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