Stephen Gallagher's The Kingdom of Bones

Set in the nineteenth century, Stephen Gallagher's The Kingdom of Bones is one of the more intelligent and suspenseful historical thrillers I've read recently. Pursued by Inspector Sebastien Becker, suspect and former boxing champion Tom Sayers must evade the law while trying to discover the truth behind a series of murders of possible supernatural origin. Not only does the novel manage to evoke a bygone era without overwhelming the reader with too many details, it includes Bram Stoker as a character in a way that isn't facile or gratuitous. Gallagher, a screenwriter and director in addition to the author of fourteen novels, kindly took time out of his busy schedule to answer a few questions for Amazon. (For more information on Gallagher, visit his website.)

1gallagbook    1gallagheadshot Could you describe your surroundings as you answer these questions?
Stephen 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. What provided the spark for The Kingdom of Bones?
Stephen 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. I assume there was some research involved. Can you share a few interesting details that didn't make it into the novel?
Stephen 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.

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Comments (1)

I'll have to check this one out! Sounds excellent.

While we've all been familiar with the Victorian--though perhaps Gallagher's book is technically set in the Edwardian--era since childhood--through visiting old people's homes, if we are old enough ourselves!--and reading authors like Conan Doyle, I still remember my utter fascination at first being exposed to (something like) a "complete Victorian environment." This was at the Royal BC Museum in Victoria--it's a permanent exhibit which is still there and still fascinating.

I remember thinking, "Wow! These people had all these intricate, well-made, manufactured devices to do [almost] everything we do!" It wasn't so much like looking at The Past, as it was looking at an Alternate Present.

It sounds like Gallagher has successfully captured that same sensation.

Posted by: Steven T. Russell | Thursday December 6, 2007 at 2:53 PM

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