Monday, 16 February 2015

When The Kingdom of Bones first came out in hardcover, I was invited to blog about it for The Page 69 Test. This was the result...

As a teenager I had a fascination with old-time Penny Dreadfuls and turn-of-the-century thrill fiction. Tom Sayers was a leading character in one of those old story papers, The Marvel. Loosely – very loosely – based on an actual historical figure, the fictional Sayers was your classic Victorian hero. Clean-living, morally upright, and with a hero's enviable physical prowess.

Tom Sayers lead story in The Penny MARVEL, Saturday, March 12th, 1010
These were the unsung narratives of the Age of the Great Storytellers. They gripped the masses, but they weren't made to travel. Haven't you ever bought the DVD set of a TV show you used to love, and realised with a twinge of sadness that what you're experiencing isn't pure joy, but rather that joy remembered?

It takes more than just the old material to recreate a form. My ambition with The Kingdom of Bones was to take the characters, settings and narrative pacing of those old stories, and to bring them to new life with the kind of themes and complex psychology that we look for in modern fiction.

Page 69 of the novel finds Police Superintendent Turner-Smith, "a formidable figure with a broad white moustache, a war wound and a walking-stick", in the back room of a public house. He's here to meet a man whom he believes to be Tom Sayers. The year is 1888 and the setting is the North West of England. Sayers is a former prize-fighter who's given up the ring, and now serves as the business manager to a small touring theatrical troupe.

Unbeknownst to Turner-Smith, the man across the table is an impostor. The real Tom Sayers is in the theatre next door, watching his company perform. What's about to take place will deprive Sayers of his good name and his liberty, with consequences that will pretty much destroy any future he might have hoped for with the woman he loves.
Turner-Smith considered the man before him for a moment, and then decided that he could speak as one gentleman to another. They were more likely to have interests in common than in conflict.
    “Take a look at this, please, Sayers,” he said, and placed before him one of the pasted-up sheets that suggested a link between paupers that had been mutilated without apparent motive, and the stage company’s progress around the country.
    The other man read for a while, and then glanced up.
    “Some of our less notable receptions.”
    “The dates, Mister Sayers. Look at the dates.”
    He read on for a while. Then he sat back in the attitude of a man conceding an argument that had already been won. “This is very revealing,” he said.
    And Turner-Smith, who for the past minute had been given the opportunity for a closer study of his visitor, said, “Are you by any chance wearing greasepaint, Mister Sayers?”
    The man threw the paper onto the table between them.
    “Ah,” he said. “There you have me.”
    Under the table, Turner-Smith reached out for his sword stick. He took care not to signal his intention. “Yet you are not listed on the playbills among the actors,” he said.
    “Very true.” The man smiled. “I can see that you are too good a detective for me, superintendent.”
    A few moments later, the man rose from the booth and walked out of the saloon. The four commercial travellers in the next booth were laughing so hard at a story that none of them noticed his departure. One took a draught from his mug and leaned back in his seat, only to splutter it out all over the table.
    His fellows were slow to catch on. Their humour ebbed, where his had vanished in a flash.
    “What the devil?” he said. “Something pronged me!”
    And he turned in his seat to find out what it was.
Even though the story's main character is offstage in this scene, I should imagine that the page makes for a reasonable taster of the novel as a whole. I've always reckoned that the best way to test out a book is to pick a random paragraph or two; at the very least, they'll give you a sense of whether you connect with the author's voice. In this case I'd hope that page 69's combination of history, greasepaint and villainy will give any prospective reader a fair idea of what lies ahead. 
Subterranean Press is a Michigan-based publishing house best known for high-end hardcovers and limited editions, mostly covering horror, fantasy, suspense, and SF.

Their stuff really stands out. Probably because the list is editorially-led in the old school fashion; publisher William Schafer is guided by his own taste and enthusiasms, and he's built up relationships with many – I'd even say most – of the top names in genre fiction.

Subterranean also publishes regular short fiction in the form of the quarterly Subterranean Magazine. The Spring 2014 issue contains One Dove, a new story of mine featuring The Bedlam Detective's Sebastian Becker.

And the fiction content in the online version is free. You don't have to register, sign in, or even endure advertising.

Yep, I find it hard to get my head around, too.

But there it is; all you have to do is point your browser to the Subterranean website and click on the Subterranean Online tab. You'll get direct access to the content of the current number, and to all of the back issues you'll find there.

Or you could cheat and click here to go straight to One Dove.

No, I don't plan to quote every review I get - not least because it's asking for trouble and an inevitable eventual slap from someone somewhere - but thanks to Pamela O'Sullivan for making my weekend with this contribution to The Library Journal.
Gallagher, Stephen. The Bedlam Detective. Crown Pub. Group. Feb. 2012. c.320p. ISBN 9780307406644. $25.

Reviews: Fiction | First Look at New Books, January 13, 2012

Sebastian Becker is a special investigator for the Lord Chancellor’s Visitor in Lunacy — a detective who studies whether various wealthy individuals are of sound mind and capable of conducting their own affairs. He is assigned to investigate a rich landowner, but his arrival in the man’s small town coincides with a double murder for which the subject of his visit seems a likely suspect. As he works to ferret out the truth, Becker must find a way to distinguish the real monsters from the imaginary ones. The story moves easily between present and past events, leading to a conclusion that is as perfectly logical as it is surprising.

Verdict Intricately drawn characters, carefully shaded depictions of events and situations, and an excellent sense of pacing mark this latest offering from Gallagher (The Kingdom of Bones; Nightmare, with Angel). This is a real page-turner, and fans will hope to see more of Sebastian Becker in the future. It may also attract readers who enjoy historical thrillers in the Caleb Carr tradition.
They don't sign the notices over at Kirkus Reviews so I don't know how better to describe this one for The Bedlam Detective...
"Gallagher has been called a horror writer, a fantasy writer, a non-fantasy writer, a writer for big screens and smaller ones, a writer whose considerable talent has enabled him to slip in and out of genres precisely as if those tidy little boxes didn't exist - as indeed they don't for his character-driven books. In this one, Sebastian Becker (The Kingdom of Bones, 2007, etc.), his fast-track career abruptly derailed, contemplates an uncertain future...[snip]

...Gallagher loves character development but respects plotting enough to give it full measure. The result is that rare beast, a literary page-turner."
The full review is online and you can read it here.

The Bedlam Detective reviewed by Marilyn Stasio in The New York Times:
"Gallagher’s detective is a man of fine character and strong principles, but he’s upstaged by the monsters he pursues. Watching Becker track down a pedophile is gratifying, but it can’t beat the sight of 20 overburdened boats hurtling through white-water rapids or Sir Owain, armed to the teeth and blasting away at giant serpents only he can see."
That complete review here.

Thanks to Bill Schafer at Subterranean Press for forwarding this Publishers Weekly starred review:
Fiction The Bedlam Detective. Stephen Gallagher. Crown, $25 (256p) ISBN 978-0-307-40664-4
Set in England in 1912, this masterful whodunit from Gallagher (Red, Red Robin) introduces Sebastian Becker, a former policeman and Pinkerton agent who now works as the special investigator to the Masters of Lunacy, looking into cases involving any “man of property” whose sanity is under question. His latest assignment takes him to the small town of Arnmouth to determine whether Sir Owain Lancaster has gone around the bend. Lancaster returned from a disastrous trip to the Amazon, which claimed the life of his wife and son, only to attribute the catastrophe to mysterious animals straight out of Doyle’s The Lost World. Lancaster believes that the creatures that plagued him in South America have followed him home, and are responsible for the deaths of two young girls, a theory supported by a local legend of a beast of the moor. Gallagher’s superior storytelling talents bode well for future adventures starring the well-rounded Becker. Agent: Howard Morhaim. (Feb.)
And finally, from The Historical Novel Society:
"It’s certainly a thriller, but with a literary depth unusual in the genre, and fascinating in the complexity of its construct. Gallagher’s prose is swift, sure, and occasionally darkly comedic. Excerpts from Lancaster’s fantastical account are interspersed with historical Amazonian reports, adding to the mystery a compelling tale of jungle survival and all the fantastical steampunk appeal of a Jules Verne or Rider Haggard story... Three words of advice: read this book."
You may care to consider this handsome pair as a stocking-filler for the fan of Victorian crime now pining away there in the corner. I've seen a surprise surge in the Amazon sales over the past few days, with new stock on the way. Don't let that deter you from supporting your local bookshop, if you have one, and if they stock the titles. A third Becker book is well in hand, and there's an upcoming story in Subterranean Magazine that picks up the chronology from the end of The Bedlam Detective.

And from our Colonial cousins, this equally handsome pair:

Publication day for the UK paperback edition
It's 1912 and Sebastian Becker, the Special Investigator to the Lord Chancellor's Visitor in Lunacy, arrives in the West Country to interview Sir Owain Lancaster on his run-down country estate.
Descending from his train in the small coastal resort town of Arnmouth, Becker finds the entire community mobilised in a search for two missing girls. He offers his services and joins a party of local men searching moorland, and is close to hand when the bodies are found by a squad of army cadets.
Becker is employed by the Lord Chancellor's Visitor to look into cases involving any “man of property” whose sanity is under question. The pay is poor, his status unofficial. British-born, he spent a number of years in America where he worked from the Philadelphia office of the Pinkerton Detective Agency. Now he lives in rooms over a furniture shop in low-rent Southwark with his American wife, her unmarried sister, and his bright but difficult son. To make ends meet, his wife is clerk to the Receiving Officer at the Evelina, Southwark's charity hospital for sick children. Her sister cares for the boy, takes in sewing, and has an unspoken crush on Sebastian.
 Sir Owain, the man of property he's here to see, is a former engineer and armaments manufacturer. He's one of only two survivors of a self-funded Amazonian expedition which saw his entire party wiped out, wife and child included. Once a rational man, his explanation for the tragedy is a nightmarish fantasy of lost-world monsters and mythical beasts.

"It’s certainly a thriller, but with a literary depth unusual in the genre, and fascinating in the complexity of its construct. Gallagher’s prose is swift, sure, and occasionally darkly comedic. Excerpts from Lancaster’s fantastical account are interspersed with historical Amazonian reports, adding to the mystery a compelling tale of jungle survival and all the fantastical steampunk appeal of a Jules Verne or Rider Haggard story... Three words of advice: read this book." Historical Novel Society

"Monsters, actual and metaphorical, are at the heart of this superbly crafted thriller... Gallagher loves character development but respects plotting enough to give it full measure. The result is that rare beast, a literary page turner" Kirkus "Best of 2012" starred review

Available as a paperback and eBook from Amazon. Or support your local bookstore, send proof of purchase (scan of receipt, selfie at the till, we don't care) to and enter a draw for one of 3 signed copies of The Kingdom of Bones.

I just heard that the US edition of The Bedlam Detective is going into its second printing. Glad news for any author, and thanks to all who've picked it up. Even greater thanks to those who didn't put it down again, and went on to pay for it.

The UK trade paperback edition will be launched by Ebury Press on May 23rd, with fireworks over the Thames and an all-night star-studded gala in the grounds of the former Bethlehem Hospital. Though I may be lying about that last part.

In the meantime, there's this.

Two short stories in one eBook volume. Out of Bedlam is a Sebastian Becker story that was specially written for a Random House Dead Good Books promotion. The Plot is a Victorian mystery originally published in Subterranean Magazine and reprinted in my collection Plots and Misadventures, not yet available in eBook form.

This link should take you to your region's Kindle store. Amazon Prime members can access it free.
As part of the runup to Christmas, I've written a new short story for Random House's Dead Good Books site. Set in the Bethlem Royal Hospital in 1912, the action takes place in the period between The Kingdom of Bones and The Bedlam Detective. If you're a new reader it'll serve as a brief introduction to Becker and his world.
It was late in the afternoon when one of the ward orderlies appeared in the doorway to Sebastian Becker’s basement office. Sebastian had spent most of the day clearing a space to work. They’d given him a desk and a chair, and a hook for his coat. He would have appreciated a window.
The orderly, clearly not expecting to find the room occupied, said, ‘Oh.’
‘Is that my welcome letter?’ Sebastian said, eyeing the envelope in the orderly’s hand.
‘That would depend, sir,’ the orderly said. ‘Are you the Visitor’s man?’
The story continues here.
The British paperback edition of The Kingdom of Bones, the novel that introduces The Bedlam Detective's Sebastian Becker, is published today by Ebury Press.

Marilyn Stasio in The New York Times wrote:
THE KINGDOM OF BONES... shows the occult mystery in its best light. Vividly set in England and America during the booming industrial era of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, this stylish thriller conjures a perfect demon to symbolize the age and its appetites, an entity that inhabits characters eager to barter their souls for fame and fortune. When met, this demon is residing in Edmund Whitlock, an actor whose life gives us entry into the colorful world of traveling theatricals. When Whitlock passes on his curse to the company soubrette, the troupe manager follows her to America, intent on rescuing her, and runs afoul of the law. Although Gallagher delivers horror with a grand melodramatic flourish, his storytelling skills are more subtly displayed in scenes of the provincial theaters, gentlemen’s sporting clubs and amusement parks where a now-vanished society once took its rough pleasures. 
And this from crime titan Ed Gorman:
"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."

The Kingdom of Bones UK paperback cover
Woo-hoo. Kirkus has named The Bedlam Detective as one of the best fiction titles of the year.

I believe a small glass of something may be called for.

The 'Read full review' link in the image won't work, but this one will.

While waiting for the softcover edition to be published in February, why not prepare the ground with Sebastian Becker's first outing in The Kingdom of Bones, in UK paperback from Ebury Press on December 6th?

No, you're quite right, I have no shame at all.

UPDATE: Click here to see all 100 titles in the Kirkus Best Fiction of 2012 list.
Guy Adams, the Torchwood/Sherlock/Hammer novelist and Angry Robot-published author, has tagged me for this. I didn't even realise I'd annoyed him.

It's called a Blog Hop. Here's how it works, he said to me. You answer ten questions on the next big thing that you're working on, then tag five other writers to do the same. Which sounds a little bit like that "grains of rice on a chessboard" thing... within a matter of weeks it'll all reach a crisis, and we'll be fighting each other over the last few taggable authors with rock axes and knives made from dinosaur bones.

What is the working title of your next book?
Well, the next one to appear will be the UK edition of The Kingdom of Bones but the one I'm working on is the third novel featuring Sebastian Becker, which I'm calling The Authentic William James.

Where did the idea come from?
I got my villain first. Which makes a kind of sense when you think about it. In this kind of story, it's someone's misdeed that sets everything in motion. If that's credible and there's genuine human motivation behind it, your foundation's going to be strong.

What genre best defines your book?
It's a big dark historical crime thriller, set in 1913.

What actors would you choose to play the part of your characters in a movie?
Seriously, or in a fantasy-football-league sense? I'm not sure I can offer a thought for either. I'm not being evasive, but the career strategy issues and market politics of casting fascinate me. You don't often get the person you want. You get the most bankable person who needs your movie. If you're lucky, they'll connect with your vision to some extent; if they don't, you pretty much have to grin and suck it up. Having seen how it works, I find I can't do the speculation thing any more.

What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?
A burning theatre, a kidnapped teen, and Sebastian Becker in pursuit of the morphine junkie cowboy that Buffalo Bill left behind.

Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?
I'm represented. For the novels it's Howard Morhaim in New York, Abner Stein in London. For screen work I'm with UTA and The Agency. Please don't ask for an introduction. It doesn't work like that.

How long did it take you to write the first draft?
Ask me that when it's done. My first drafts are preceded by a lot of research and preparation. When I'm ready to sit down and pull it all together, it takes about twelve weeks.

What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?
I'm sui generis, apparently. Which I suspect may be a euphemism for "difficult to place".

Who or what inspired you to write this book?
All the Becker books include an element of Old Showbusiness. In The Kingdom of Bones it was a touring Victorian theatrical troupe, in The Bedlam Detective there's a crucial element tied in with early British cinema. For decades after William Cody's final UK tour, a number of British fairground families made their living with home-grown Western sideshows. They lived the life and learned the skills of shooting, roping, knife-throwing... and in the original show, one of Cody's performers did suffer a horrific riding accident and stayed on in Europe to recover. My what-if question - what if one of the British families took him in to lend their act some authenticity? Only to find that they'd opened up their family to an embittered monster? Everything flowed from there.

What else about the book might pique the reader's interest?
It's the third novel to feature Sebastian Becker, Special Investigator to the Lord Chancellor's Visitor in Lunacy. He makes his first appearance in The Kingdom of Bones, published in the UK by Ebury Press in December.  The Bedlam Detective follows in February.

I got a present at Fantasycon last weekend; the Ebury publicity team had brought along an advance copy of the UK paperback of The Kingdom of Bones, and handed it to me at the launch of Random House's new Del Rey imprint.

It is cool.

The cover is by Headdesign, who provided art for the current set of Ian Fleming's James Bond novels from Vintage. The back of the jacket features Sebastian Becker's Bulldog revolver.

As a bonus you get the opening chapters of The Bedlam Detective, the Becker-led follow-up. That one's scheduled for May 2013.

But this one's is available from December 6th. Just in time for... well, you know the drill.
I've just had word that the jacket art is locked, so here it is. The book will be published in hardcover on February 7th by Crown.

The story features ex-Pinkerton man Sebastian Becker, last seen arriving in England with his family at the end of The Kingdom of Bones. He installs his family in cheap rooms in Southwark and takes a gig as Special Investigator to Sir James Crichton Browne, the Lord Chancellor's Visitor in Lunacy. Becker's job is to pursue the criminally insane whose wealth or position protects them from the law.

I'll be mentioning this again. You can count on it.