Seventeen stories by Kersh (1911–68), best known for the roman noir Night and the City (1938), about an impecunious thief and swindler who can’t resist boasting about the exploits that once made him rich—or did they?
When he’s not cadging the price of a pack of cigarettes, the mustachioed old fox explains how he overdrew his account at Lombard’s Bank by £15,000 or relieved a jeweler of a fabled diamond bracelet, if indeed he really did. In the early stories (1936–39), the stakes are rarely worthy of Karmesin’s ingenuity, and though it’s amusing to hear how he tricked a padlocked gas meter into heating his Paris flat for free, most of his swindles are more routine. In the later stories (1944–62), the con man’s expansiveness soars into the realm of megalomania. In pursuit of an unpublished Shakespearean sonnet, he desecrates the tomb of Edmund Spenser in Westminster Abbey. He arranges the forgery of an elaborate cipher that proves Shakespeare’s plays were written by Francis Bacon. He skims three distinct rounds of profit from a fake Gauguin. He manages to net nearly £100,000 from his memoir, I Have Stolen Five Millions, without publishing it. Inevitably, he spirits the Crown Jewels from the Tower of London.
A lovely footnote to the literature of the swindle.