Rutherford Manor started as a haunt in a residential Edmonton neighbourhood, but has since spawned music, short stories, a card game, a forthcoming TV show, and now a novel from Edmonton horror and dark fantasy writer Konn Lavery.
Lavery’s previous publications include the horror novel Seed Me and the thriller YEGman, both set in Edmonton, as well as the dark fantasy series Mental Damnation. His contribution to the Rutherford Manor universe is The White Hand, a novel about Alastor Flesher and Spalding Savidge—two men desperate enough to provide for their families at the onset of the depression of the 1890s that they’ll become resurrection men for the eponymous American-Irish gang.
If you’re not familiar with the resurrection men, they were also known as bodysnatchers. For approximately 300 years—according to Suzie Lennox, author of Bodysnatchers: Digging up the Untold Stories of Britain’s Resurrection Men—there was a demand for bodies for dissection that could not be legally met. So the profession of resurrectionist was born and people not only in Britain, but also America, started digging up freshly buried corpses in exchange for cash.
The trouble of course was that the best pay was for the freshest corpses and this led to some … unpleasantness. Perhaps the most infamous case concerned two men, William Burke and William Hare, who, it was eventually discovered, had found a more expedient way of acquiring dead bodies than digging them up.
Flesher and Savidge appear to take a page from their book.
“The reason they get picked by the White Hand to get these bodies is because they have an alternative method of getting these bodies—they actually go out and killed these people,” Lavery explains. “They pick a target and then they kill him, so their bodies are the freshest on the market.”
The novel also has supernatural elements: Part of the Rutherford Manor story is that the Flesher bloodline is under the influence of the demon Muut, the messenger of death in Native American folklore.
“It doesn’t go too far into it—that’s for future storytellings of Rutherford Manor—but there is this underlying evil, which is the demon Muut, and she has a play in this story as well,” Lavery says.
A lot of the characters and history of the Rutherford Manor universe were pre-established well before he started writing the novel, but Lavery says that actually made things a little easier. Rather than spending a lot of time on character and world creation, he says he spent more time reading, researching, and asking questions of creator and executive director of the Rutherford Manor TV show Preston Ewasiuk, and of the writers for the show.
“It was a really different process, understanding where characters exist on an existing timeline and where I can fit the story in without getting into a roadblock and contradicting other elements that have already been built into this world,” Lavery says. “So that was the challenging part, but the characters were fun.”
Other regular characters who make an appearance in the novel are Nox Flesher (Alester’s son), Vivian Flesher, Billy, and Lilith.
In addition to being a published author, Lavery also runs his own business as a graphic designer. He says that when it came to working with Ewasiuk and the rest of the Rutherford team, it was a lot like working with one of his graphic design clients.
“With the creative process on logos, particularly, I include the client all through the different stages, so I just kind of took that philosophy and applied it to writing, where it’s like there’s a lot more people involved than me just writing a book,” he says.
Given that The White Hand is also a work of historical fiction, Lavery’s research also went beyond the established history of Rutherford Manor. He also had to understand the time period and the location.
“So how does that location, where Rowley, [Illinois] is—which is the town that the story takes place in—what’s going on around there from an economical standpoint, a social standpoint, a technological standpoint? Like, do they have street lamps?” Lavery explains.
He also had to research the resurrection business, and how the trade in America differed from that in Britain.
“Because apparently it was way more rampant in England than it was in the U.S., but with it being fiction, I was able to adopt some of those cool ideas into that section,” he says.
Now that the book is complete, Lavery looks forward to people reading it, and he’s happy to be part of the Rutherford Manor universe.
“It’s a cool thing to be a part of, and I’m pretty stoked to see where it’s going to go, because it just seems like every year they keep growing,” he says.
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