The Zealot’s Bones is a mystery-slash-thriller-slash-slasher-novel, which isn’t easy to say with a lisp, and probably isn’t even accurate. It’s set in 1849 in Hull, during a cholera outbreak that turned the old port city into a Gomorrah of blood, filth, rats and bodies. Into this world of pain and flame comes Meshach Stone, a disgraced soldier and spy now serving as bodyguard to rich young archaeologist Diligence Matheson. They have come to the North of England seeking the last resting place of one of Christ’s apostles. Stone finds himself drawn to one of Hull’s ladies of the night but their union is cut tragically short when she is found butchered by a killer who has been using the plague to cover their grisly, artfully executed crimes. It’s a story of redemption and revenge: bloody, grimy and raw.
A lot of people have asked me where the idea came from and as with most stories, there are lots of replies but nothing that actually serves as a real answer. Essentially, I like taking an idea and letting it roll around in my head and become something, well…else. I think it’s the result of a lifelong obsession with the peerless Sharpe novels by Bernard Cornwell, and the fact that I had grown a little bit frustrated by all the technology and modernity in my best-selling contemporary crime novels, featuring DS Aector McAvoy. There’s something delightful about disappearing into the past. Even when it’s fetid and grotesque and the bodies are stacked like Weetabix, at least there’s no mobile phones, CCTV, DNA or frigging Facebook to contend with.
I really hope readers are beguiled by the central character of Meshach Stone. He’s not your conventional heroic character but I do think he’s a believable human being. When we meet him he is suffused with guilt and self-loathing, wallowing at the bottom of a brandy bottle and taking comforts only through opiates and occasional bouts of violence. But beneath his broken exterior is a man who was once a diplomat, spy and assassin. When a young woman manages to provide him with some crumbs of comfort, he sees a chance at redemption – but when that is taken away, he embarks upon a quest for his own form of justice.