October 01, 2007 at 04:00 AM EDT

Stephen Gallagher’s Gothic tale of Victorian villainy entangles three key figures: boxer/impresario Tom Sayers; Louise Porter, the actress he loves; and the mysterious murderer who frames Tom and seduces Louise, tainting her with a curse that compels its bearer to do evil. (Louise finesses her dilemma by becoming a dominatrix, inflicting pain from London to New Orleans.) The Kingdom of Bones‘ Gilded Age period detail includes some melodramatic prose — ”into that devil’s hands I’ve delivered Louise!” — and dodgy occult lore. But Gallagher (The Spirit Box) includes gripping set-pieces — bare-knuckle bouts, exquisite kink — to produce an affecting study of sado-masochistic desire. B

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