The Kingdom of Bones
is the haunting story of Tom Sayers, a former boxing champion who must continue to fight--to clear his name after a series of gruesome murders, for the heart and soul of a leading lady, and to uncover the truth behind a legend as old as evil itself.
Wrongly accused of the slaughter of pauper children in the wake of the touring theater company he manages, Tom Sayers is forced to disappear into a twilight world of music halls and traveling boxing booths. Beginning with a chance encounter in a Philadelphia pleasure park one weekend in 1903, this brilliantly macabre mystery traces Sayers's journey from England's provincial playhouses through London's mighty Lyceum Theatre and on to the high society of a transforming American South--with many a secret to be uncovered in the dark alleyways, backstage areas, and houses of ill repute that lie along the way.
As Sayers seeks the truth behind the killings, he is pursued in turn by the tireless Detective Inspector Sebastian Becker. Desperate to ensure the safety of actress Louise Porter, Sayers calls on an old friend, Bram Stoker, for help. But Stoker's links with the world of the Victorian occult lead Sayers to discover a danger even greater than he could have imagined.
Thrown into a maelstrom of obsession, betrayal, and sacrifice--where even the pure may not escape damnation--Sayers must face the implications of an unthinkable bargain: the exchange of a soul for a chance at eternal life.
With action that spans continents, decades, and every level of society, The Kingdom of Bones follows the troubled lives of those touched by Tom Sayers, ultimately weaving their stories into a harrowing climax that stirs the mind--and the blood.
Questions for Stephen Gallagher
Jeff VanderMeer for Amazon.com: Could you describe your surroundings as you answer these questions?
Gallagher: I'm in my study with a bare wood floor and a beamed ceiling that goes all the way up to the roofline. The lighting comes from a rack of spotlights on one of the beams. There are two desks back-to-back with a flatscreen monitor on each and a swivel chair so that I can spin from one to the other in your basic Evil Genius world domination setup. The house is a rural Victorian cottage about half an hour's drive from Lancaster, England, and until ten years ago this room was just space above the garage. Back then I rented an office in town, but it made more sense to spend the money creating a dedicated workspace while putting the house back to its period look.
Amazon.com: What provided the spark for The Kingdom of Bones?
Gallagher: Writing a short story called "Old, Red Shoes" for a Ripper-themed collection edited by Gardner Dozois. It was a contemporary tale but the work involved visiting all the Whitechapel locations and researching the period, and I came out hooked. Not so much on the Ripper stuff as on that whole rich and epic environment. I saw the prospect of attempting something utterly real and historically accurate, but with a genuine operatic sweep.
Amazon.com: I assume there was some research involved. Can you share a few interesting details that didn't make it into the novel?
Gallagher: It was fascinating to sort through Bram Stoker's working papers for Dracula in Philadelphia's Rosenbach museum and get a sense of another writer's process. The way he sketched out rough structures for each chapter and set a wordage target for each, striking each one out with a single pencil stroke when the chapter was done. Sudden flashes of insight scribbled on hotel stationery. None of this makes any direct appearance in The Kingdom of Bones, but it helped me get a real sense of Stoker's presence. As you probably know, he was Henry Irving's right-hand man and stood right at the heart of the theatrical and social scenes of the day. But no contemporary portrayal ever quite seems to nail him.
Amazon.com: Besides making sure the historical detail didn't overwhelm the story, what was the biggest writing challenge for you with this novel?
Gallagher: There were so many strands that it allowed me to pull together. The biggest challenge was in making them all work to a single end. I wanted to capture some of the energy of the old dime novels and story papers but also to be able to say something meaningful about love, death and obsession along the way. However you think I did, give me some credit for aiming high. There's no reason why popular fiction should be devoid of theme, and no reason why serious art shouldn't entertain.
Amazon.com: Do you have a favorite scene in The Kingdom of Bones?
Gallagher: That would have to be the scene where Tom Sayers climbs up into the ironwork of a railway bridge to take shelter and to hide from his pursuers on the day of his arrest. He's got nothing but the clothes he's wearing and the coat he just stole from a beerhouse, and no money for food other than some pennies he found in the coat's pocket. Steam trains are thundering over his head, and smoke and sparks are falling around him like fairy rain. It's the first time he's been able to stop and draw breath. He's been falsely accused, beaten by the police, and faces a hanging if they catch him. But all he can think about is the safety of the woman he loves. That's despite the fact that she doesn't love him back, and almost certainly never will. I suppose it's my favorite scene because it's one of those moments where we can see fate being determined by character.
Amazon.com: What has reader reaction been like to the book?
Gallagher: Unbelievable. I mean, genuinely. Complete strangers have been tracking me down just to tell me how they feel about it. It's only been out a few weeks and it's drawn the biggest reader reaction of anything I've ever done. People are doubling up copies to give them as Christmas presents. Which I'm entirely in favor of.
Amazon.com: What are you currently working on?
Gallagher: Another big period story. It's not a sequel, but a standalone novel of similar character. Some of the same people play a part, but you see them at a very different time and place in their lives. What I do next may depend on the progress of the WGA strike. The format rights of my last UK series have been picked up by Jerry Bruckheimer and that's opened some doors into American TV, but everything's on hold until the issues are resolved. But earlier this year I roughed out the key story points for a third book in The Kingdom of Bones vein, so there's no danger of me standing idle.
Set mainly in late 19th-century England, Gallagher's ingenious horror thriller revolves around the extraordinary life—and death—of Tom Sayers, a real-life bare-knuckle fighter who, after retiring, briefly traveled the country staging reenactments of his most memorable bouts. While working as a manager for a touring theatrical company, Sayers falls in love with the troupe's leading lady, 22-year-old Louise Porter, who unfortunately doesn't share his feelings. Sayers also becomes the prime suspect in a series of mutilation murders and, while barely evading arrest, embarks on a quest to save Porter, who's become hopelessly entangled in an all-too-real occult legend. Bram Stoker and Aleister Crowley play minor roles. Combining the meticulous historical detail of Caleb Carr's The Alienist
with gothic mysticism and Christian mythology, Gallagher (The Painted Bride
) delivers a nicely macabre blend of fact and fiction. (Oct.)
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