In a deal that closed shortly before the Frankfurt Book Fair got underway, Trident Media’s Ellen Levine sold a debut novel to Farrar, Straus & Giroux’s Jonathan Galassi for a figure rumored to be in the substantial six figure range. Galassi’s lauded literary house is famously low-paying when it comes to advances, which makes the price tag for Steven Price’s historical novel, By Gaslight, all the more notable.
Price is based in British Columbia and is an award-winning poet; his collection Anatomy of Keys (Brick Books, 2006) won Canada’s Gerald Lampert Award. Though Price published one novel with the small Canadian press Thomas Allen—2011’s Into That Darkness—the novel was never released in the U.S. Therefore, Levine said, By Gaslight is being treated as Price’s U.S. debut and “being published as a debut.”
The Victorian-set work opens in London in 1885, three years before the city’s string of infamous Whitechapel murders (often credited to Jack the Ripper). When a woman’s body is pulled from the Thames, William Pinkerton is drawn back into a case he thought was closed. The case winds up intertwining Pinkerton, known as one of the top detectives of his era, with a thief named Adam Foole who, Levine explained, has a past “inextricably linked with Pinkerton’s own.”
The novel spans two decades and unfolds in myriad locales, taking its characters from London to the American battlefields of the Civil War to the diamond mines of South Africa. Levine described the book as “epic in scope and brilliantly atmospheric,” and called it "a journey into a cityscape of grief, trust, and its breaking."
By Thursday morning, no foreign deals had closed. Levine said publishers in the U.K. are currently reading the manuscript, and that she intends to sell the book separately in Canada.