Longlisted for the 2016 Scotiabank Giller Prize
No. 1 National Bestseller
Globe and Mail's "20 Books to Read in 2016," Maclean's bestseller, Toronto Star bestseller, Ottawa Citizen's "Best on the Shelf," Huffington Post's "Best Fall 2016 Books," Publishers Weekly "Books of the Week," National Post bestseller, Vanity Fair 2016 "Must Read Books of the Fall"
"A dark tale of love, betrayal and murder that reaches from the slums of Victorian London to the diamond mines in South Africa, to the American Civil War and back. Superb storytelling." --Kurt Palka, author of The Piano Maker
A magnificent literary historical-suspense novel in the tradition of Eleanor Catton's The Luminaries, Patrick DeWitt's The Sisters Brothers, and Michael Faber's The Crimson Petal and the White, By Gaslight is destined to be one of the most acclaimed and talked-about books of the year.
London, 1885. In a city of fog and darkness, the notorious thief Edward Shade exists only as a ghost, a fabled con, a thief of other men's futures -- a man of smoke. William Pinkerton is already famous, the son of a brutal detective, when he descends into the underworld of Victorian London in pursuit of a new lead. His father died without ever tracing Shade; William, still reeling from his loss, is determined to drag the thief out of the shadows. Adam Foole is a gentleman without a past, haunted by a love affair ten years gone. When he receives a letter from his lost beloved, he returns to London in search of her; what he learns of her fate, and its connection to the man known as Shade, will force him to confront a grief he thought long-buried. What follows is a fog-enshrouded hunt through sewers, opium dens, drawing rooms, and seance halls. Above all, it is the story of the most unlikely of bonds: between William Pinkerton, the greatest detective of his age, and Adam Foole, the one man who may hold the key to finding Edward Shade.
Epic in scope, brilliantly conceived, and stunningly written, Steven Price's By Gaslight is a riveting, atmospheric portrait of two men on the brink. Moving from the diamond mines of South Africa to the battlefields of the Civil War, the novel is a journey into a cityscape of grief, trust, and its breaking, where what we share can bind us even against our darker selves.
About the author
Steven Price was born and raised in Colwood, BC. His first collection of poetry, Anatomy of Keys (Brick Books, 2006), won the Gerald Lampert Award and was named a Globe & Mail Book of the Year. His work has appeared in Canadian and American literary journals. He is one of the poets in Breathing Fire 2: Canada’s New Poets, edited by Lorna Crozier and Patrick Lane. Price graduated from the University of Virginia Writing Program, and currently teaches poetry and writing at the University of Victoria.
- Long-listed, Scotiabank Giller Prize
Excerpt: By Gaslight (by (author) Steven Price)
From The Woman in the Thames: Part One
He was the oldest son.
He wore his black moustaches long in the manner of an outlaw and his right thumb hooked at his hip where a Colt Navy should have hung. He was not yet forty but already his left knee went stiff in a damp cold from an exploding Confederate shell at Antietam. He had been sixteen then and the shrapnel had stood out from his knee like a knuckle of extra bone while the dirt heaved and sprayed around him. Since that day he had twice been thought killed and twice come upon his would-be killers like an avenging spectre. He had shot twenty-three men and one boy outlaws all and only the boy’s death did not trouble him. He entered banks with his head low, his eyebrows drawn close, his huge menacing hands empty as if fixed for strangling. When he lurched aboard crowded streetcars men instinctively pulled away and women followed him with their eyelashes, bonnets tipped low. He had not been at home more than a month at a stretch for five years now though he loved his wife and daughters, loved them with the fear a powerful man feels who is given to breaking things. He had long yellow teeth, a wide face, sunken eyes, pupils as dark as the twist of a man’s intestines.
He loathed London. Its cobbled streets were filthy even to a man whose business was filth, who would take a saddle over a bed and huddle all night in a brothel’s privy with his Colt drawn
until the right arse stumbled in. Here he had seen nothing green in a month that was not holly or a cut bough carted in from a countryside he could not imagine. On Christmas he had watched the poor swarm a man in daylight, all clutched rags and greed; on New Year’s he had seen a lady kick a watercress girl from the step of a carriage, then curse the child’s blood spotting her laces. A rot ate its way through London, a wretchedness older and more brutal than any he had known in Chicago.
He was not the law. No matter. In America there was not a thief who did not fear him. By his own measure he feared no man living and only one man dead and that man his father.
It was a bitter January and that father six months buried when he descended at last into Bermondsey in search of an old operative of his father’s, an old friend. Wading through the night’s fog, another man’s blood barnacling his knuckles, his own business in London nearly done.
He was dressed like a gentleman though he had lost his gloves and he clutched his walking stick in one fist like a cudgel. A stain spotted his cuffs that might have been soot or mud but was not either. He had been waiting for what passed for morning in this miserable winter and paused now in a narrow alley at the back of Snow Fields, opera hat collapsed in one hand, frost creaking in the timbers of the shopfronts, not sure it had come. Fog spilled over the cobblestones, foul and yellow and thick with coal fumes and a bitter stink that crusted the nostrils, scalded the back of the throat. That fog was everywhere, always, drifting through the streets and pulling apart low to the ground, a living thing. Some nights it gave off a low hiss, like steam escaping a valve.
Six weeks ago he had come to this city to interrogate a woman who last night after a long pursuit across Blackfriars Bridge had leaped the railing and vanished into the river. He thought of the darkness, the black water foaming outward, the slapping of the Yard sergeants’ boots on the granite setts.
He could still feel the wet scrape of the bridge bollards against his wrists.
She had been living lawful in this city as if to pass for respectable and in this way absolve herself of a complicated life but as with anything it had not helped. She had been calling herself LeRoche but her real name was Reckitt and ten years earlier she had been an associate of the notorious cracksman and thief Edward Shade. That man Shade was the one he really hunted and until last night the Reckitt woman had been his one certain lead. She’d had small sharp teeth, long white fingers, a voice low and vicious and lovely.
The night faded, the streets began to fill. In the upper windows of the building across the street a pale sky glinted, reflected the watery silhouettes below, the passing shadows of the early horses hauling their waggons, the huddled cloth caps and woollens of the outsides perched on their sacks. The iron-shod wheels chittering and squeaking in the cold. He coughed and lit a cigar and smoked in silence, his small deep-set eyes predatory as any cutthroat’s.
After a time he ground the cigar under one heel and punched out his hat and put it on. He withdrew a revolver from his pocket and clicked it open and dialed through its chambers for something to do and when he could wait no longer he hitched up one shoulder and started across.
If asked he would say he had never met a dead nail didn’t want to go straight. He would say no man on the blob met his own shadow and did not flinch. He would run a hand along his unshaved jaw and glower down at whatever reporter swayed in front of him and mutter some unprintable blasphemy in flash dialect and then he would lean over and casually rip that page from the reporter’s ring-coil notebook. He would say lack of education is the beginning of the criminal underclass and both rights and laws are failing the country. A man is worth more than a horse any day though you would never guess it to see it. The cleverest jake he’d ever met was a sharper and the kindest jill a whore and the world takes all types. Only the soft-headed think a thing looks like what it is.
In truth he was about as square as a broken jaw but then he’d never met a cop any different so what was the problem and whose business was it anyway.
Praise for By Gaslight:
• "With its intricate cat-and-mouse game, array of idiosyncratic characters, and brooding atmosphere, By Gaslight has much to please fans of both classic suspense and Victorian fiction.” --Publishers Weekly
• "By Gaslight is an engrossing read. The twists and turns deepen our understanding of the characters even as they advance multiple plot strands, and Price immerses us in a world of sights and smells so precisely rendered they are nearly tangible." --Quill & Quire
• "The story is utterly Sherlock-ian—read Moriarty for Shade and Irene Adler for Reckitt—and postmodernly so, full of sly nods and winks and allusions. Price's yarn is a lot of fun." --Kirkus
• "The novel’s climax, the big reveal, is a hard-won discovery, rooted not in detection but in the characters themselves, skillfully drawn and pushed to their limits." --National Post
• "The vastness of [By Gaslight], its temporal and physical setting, and its cast of characters are reminiscent of Dickens, but Price's structure is more complex in its movement back and forth through time and place, and the violence is much more graphic." --Windsor Star
• "By Gaslight is Canadian writer Steven Price's copious second novel, a mystery. At its best, it will remind you of the work of Dickens, Wilkie Collins, and Conan Doyle. It exudes an abundance of atmospherics mixed with indirection and subtle plot lines. . . . By Gaslight is a novel bordering on exceptional." --NSC2 News
• "Readers who enjoy a page-turner steeped in period language, compelling images and set-piece scenes of robberies and underworld exploration will delight in By Gaslight." --Winnipeg Free Press
• "Spinning fiction out of fact, Price creates an evocative world, cast not in shades of stark black and white, but rather in morally complex herringbone. Violence forever stalks the margins of the story, and we are privy to situations that that are both raw and beautiful, though always expressing the complexities of the human heart." --NPR
• "With its intricate cat-and-mouse game, array of idiosyncratic characters, and brooding atmosphere, By Gaslight has much to please fans of both classic suspense and Victorian fiction. Yet Price's novel is entirely contemporary, and assuredly his own: a sweeping tale of hunter and hunted in which the most-dangerous pursuer is always the human heart." --Publishers Weekly
• "By Gaslight draws in and magically transports the reader, as if by time machine, to another world. . . . [it] will make you feel as if you really had explored London in 1885. It's a deeply unsettling, fascinating place to visit. You probably wouldn't want to live there." --Dallas News
• "Price is a poet—someone who is able to write about the familiar and every day and make readers see it as if for the first time. His invocations of light and shadow in stinking, decaying London are reason enough to pick up this book." --Penticton Western News
Advance Praise for By Gaslight:
• "Steven Price has done a daring thing: taken a long look at a complex, utterly fascinating 19th-century crime. Price's gift for unraveling a terrific yarn shines through. Give this book a try." --Caleb Carr, author of The Alienist
• "A dark tale of love, betrayal and murder that reaches from the slums of Victorian London to the diamond mines in South Africa, to the American Civil War and back. Superb storytelling." --Kurt Palka, author of The Piano Maker
• "This sweeping tale of the unforgettable William Pinkerton and Adam Foole thrusts the reader into smoky Victorian London with all its grit and glitter. Uniting the literary graceand depth of William Faulkner and Cormac McCarthy with the intrigue and momentum of a Sherlock Holmes story, By Gaslight is completely absorbing -- an epic, brilliantly written novel to rank with the world's best." --Jacqueline Baker, author of The Broken Hours
• "This darkly mesmerizing tale is worthy of the great Victorian thriller writers, but Steven Price brings to his prose a sensibility and dazzling skill all his own. The gruesome, eerie events that unfold during the search for Charlotte Reckitt are given enthralling life in abook that is perfectly grounded in period and rich in incident and image. Haunting and deeply satisfying." --Marina Endicott, author of Close to Hugh
• "A poetic, persuasive pea-souper. Think Dickens with Maigret's whiskers." --Anakana Schofield, author of Martin John
• "By Gaslight is Steven Price's extraordinary historical novel, finely written, and deeply researched, about the period just following America’s Civil War, the son of America's most famous detective (Allan Pinkerton), and a cast of truly powerful characters, half-mad and all dangerous." --Alan Furst, author of the "Night Soldiers" novels
Praise for Steven Price's debut novel Into That Darkness:
• "Brilliant. . . . Compulsive. . . . Evocative and haunting." -- National Post
• "Unerring in its language, fearless in its vision . . ." -- Joan Thomas, author of The Opening Sky