This was the top-prize-winning novel from 20,000 entries in one of the richest literary awards ever offered in Britain. Its convoluted and colorful plot turns on questions of heredity and atavism: the ancestry of the Waring twin brothers and of Elma Clifford. Elma comes on her mother's side from a line of gypsy snake dancers, and she displays a periodic urge to dance wildly with a feather boa in her bedroom. A murderous judge, multiple mistaken identities and scenes of tribal life in South Africa decorate this extraordinary novel, which is certainly a testament to Grant Allen's versatility and grasp of the popular market.
Excerpt: "Elma felt sure she was mad that night. And, if so, oh, how could she poison Cyril Waring's life with so unspeakable an inheritance for himself and his children? She didn't know, what any psychologist might at once have told her, that no one with the fatal taint of madness in her blood could ever even have thought of that righteous self-denial. Such scruples have no place in the selfish insane temperament; they belong only to the highest and purest types of moral nature."
In his biography of Allen, Professor Peter Morton says about this book: "Twice in his career Allen finds he has a great popular success on his hands. What's Bred in the Bone(1891), a sensational thriller written to order at top speed, secures him one of the largest literary prizes ever awarded in Britain: a thousand pounds from George Newnes, the publishers of the magazine Tit-Bits. What's Bred in the Bone comes first in a field of 20,000 entrants to take the prize. It sells hugely in its first year, goes into seventeen impressions, appears in the form of a silent film in 1916, and is translated into several languages, including Icelandic. Nothing demonstrates better Allen's cold-blooded judgment in analysing and meeting the popular taste." The novel was published serially in 1890 and 1891.