Michael Cox

The Meaning of Night

"Anybody who can kill a totally innocent man for practice is automatically evil, isn’t he?"


This book starts with a killer opening line - “After killing the red-haired man I took myself off to Quinns for an oyster supper.” Add to this the fact that the murder was of an innocent man chosen, more or less, at random, and you have the beginnings of an intriguing and intricate tale.

Edward Glyver, the murderer and also narrator, has suffered a series of calculated and life changing blows at the hands of Phoebus Daunt, a fellow student at Eton whose life intertwines with that of Glyver. Edward slowly discovers the various ways in which Daunt has damaged him and slowly determines what he is going to do about it.

The story is set both in Victorian London, with its polite society and seamy underworld of opium dens and brothels and in Evenwood, a beautiful country house in rural England. The plot develops steadily to the inevitable ending when a satisfying if morally doubtful conclusion is reached.

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I started off by immediately disliking the narrator. Anybody who can kill a totally innocent man for practice is automatically evil, isn't he? However, the skill of the author is in developing the plot and the character so that, by the end of the story, Edward is a completely understandable, if morally flawed, individual. This is an extraordinarily well plotted novel. The detailed description of the perfidies of Phoebus Rainsford Daunt are so well set out that the intense frustration of Glyver is deeply felt and understood by the reader. The descriptions of the life and times of the underworld of Victorian London are fascinating and make the events seem very real. This is a long book but I enjoyed it more and more as I became gripped by the events unfolding in its pages. By the end I was thoroughly absorbed and, as all the different strands came together, I was extremely satisfied with the ending.

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