In Canadian author Price’s second novel, By Gaslight, two men haunted by the past meet in a haunting city.

What drew you to writing about William Pinkerton, son of legendary detective agency founder Allan Pinkerton?

My great-grandfather, Albert Price, was trained as a gunsmith in London. But around 1889 he traveled to Canada, then to the westernmost part, Vancouver Island, where he founded a locksmith and security company. Some 10 years ago we learned that Albert had got into some sort of trouble with the law, and had fled as far from London as he could get. The idea of a man with criminal leanings finding himself on the other side of the law fascinated me. Years later I was reading a biography of William Pinkerton, and I found the detective described in similar terms—as a man with all of the talents of the master criminal, a man for whom the ends justified the means, and whose easiest friendships were with the criminal class, but who worked on the side of the law. I suppose while I was writing William Pinkerton, some part of me was also writing my way back towards my great-grandfather.

Pinkerton is pitted against a criminal called Adam Foole, but grapples just as powerfully with the legacy of his father. Did you know you were going to write about the ways that parents haunt our minds and lives?

By Gaslight was always fundamentally a novel about parents, and grief, and loss, and the unfinished business of a life. I began with William’s character, measuring itself against the sudden absence of his powerful father, and the novel wrote itself from there. It’s difficult to say how and why such obsessions matter to me, as a writer and as a person, but it does seem one of the dominant elements in the stories I tell: the ways our lives are so much a grappling with what we have inherited from our parents, and the complicated nature of what we see—and fail to see—ourselves passing on to our children.

The book’s main story is set in 1885 London, but you shift fluidly between decades and continents. Was that difficult?

There was much trial and error, much rewriting. I wanted a book that was digressive enough to encompass a life, but also somehow lean in its forward movement, engrossing. Something I understood early in the process was that the leaps in time would need to justify their presence in the telling itself. Nothing could feel arbitrarily located. If I could not be clear, to myself, about why a flashback was placed where it was, and why the novel could not be written without its being there, then it needed to be reconceived. In some ways this novel is a study in character. But on a more fundamental level, it is a study in structure and how to work with structure to create movement and meaning.