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The Meaning of Night: A Confession    by Michael Cox order for
Meaning of Night
by Michael Cox
Order:  USA  Can
W. W. Norton, 2006 (2006)
* * *   Reviewed by Lisa Respers France

Checking in at 698 pages if you include the appendix, The Meaning Of Night: A Confession hardly qualifies as a quick read unless you factor in your inability to resist the desire to plow through it until the satisfying end. Set in Victorian England, it's a tour-de-force noir which traces a man's quest for revenge and his battle with an almost invisible enemy.

Edward Charles Glyver, booklover and gentleman, is the narrator and protagonist. The confession in the title is dealt with straight away in the opening line of the novel as he owns up to murdering a complete stranger. 'After killing the red man, I took myself off to Quinn's for an oyster supper.' The reader quickly learns that this crime is merely a warm up for the hopeful eventual extermination of Glyver's adversary, Phoebus Daunt, whom he blames for stealing his birthright. Treachery ensues and the suspense builds as Glyver reveals in flashbacks who he actually is and how he came to regard Daunt as his sworn enemy.

Like Captain Ahab and his elusive Moby Dick, Glyver is obsessed with the destruction of Daunt and it is this hunt and the eventual fallout from it which drives the story's momentum. The epic is rescued from relentlessness, however, thanks to the skillful authorship of Cox and his creation of an excellent cast of characters including Isabella Gallini (prostitute and Glyver's part time paramour), and Julius Duport, the 25th Baron Tansor who has a special connection to Glyver.

Footnotes put together by the imagined scholar, J. J. Antrobus of Cambridge who is the author of the editor's preface, add to the sense of authenticity of this as an aged manuscript. Framed as 'one of the lost curiosities of nineteenth-century literature,' the book has drawn comparisons to the work of Dickens. But while Cox is a master at capturing the feel of a 19th century novel, he infuses it with enough elements of a modern day crime thriller that it will appeal to literary enthusiasts as well as mystery lovers.

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