I read Stephen Gallagher for two reasons. First because he's one of the most entertaining writers I've ever read. And second because I can't read a short story of his let alone a novel without picking up a few pointers about writing. He's an elegant stylist, a shrewd psychologist and a powerful storyteller with enormous range and depth.
I finished his latest novel The Kingdom of Bones and I was honestly stunned by what he'd done. The sweep, the majesty, the grit, the grue, the great grief (and the underpinning of gallows humor from time to time). This is not only the finest novel I've read this year but the finest novel I've read in the past two or three years.
As most of you know by now, I'm terrible at describing plots. I've had three agents over the years assure me that my outlines are the worst they've ever read (those insensitive bastards).
So I'll spare you my inept attempt at giving you the details of the story and let PW and the publisher do it. Whatever your book budget is make an allowance for this one. You won't be sorry.
From Publishers Weekly
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.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
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’ 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.
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I just read the author's Valley of Lights, which lived up to its reputation as a powerfully compelling blend of police thriller and supernatural horror story.
Excellent Halloween reading.
I found myself thoroughly engaged by Gallagher's storytelling, as well, though he asks a lot of his readers in terms of suspending disbelief. I came out of The Kingdom of Bones unconvinced as to the existence of "Wanderers," and wanting Gallagher to have hewed a bit closer to the real life of boxer-turned-entertainer Tom Sayers; however, I was thoroughly enraptured by his scene-setting and the emotional underpinnings of his dark tale.
I'll definitely be watching for more from him in the future.
Ed - you're a saint and a hero. I can't tell you how much your approval means to me.
I'm translating Kingdom Of Bones in a foreign language (privacy and my country's publishing rules keep me from saying which one, at least until KOB is released in my country). It's such a wonderful book and one of the most intriguing ones I've read in my life. Tom Sayers is a real 'tragic' hero, as classical Greek characters like Oedipus or Phaedra. And Abraham 'Bram' Stoker's cameo... oh my, so beautifully portrayed. I'm proud to translate such a masterpiece from such a terrific writer. Keep up the great work, Mister Gallagher!
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