Saturday, August 28, 2010

The Meaning of Night by Michael Cox

When you find the perfect book to suit your mood it's amazing how much time you can find to steal a page here and there.  On several occasions I found myself leaning on the kitchen counter to read just one more page before grabbing my keys to drive off to work. 

'After killing the red-haired man, I took myself off to Quinn's for an oyster supper.'

So begins this Victorian pastiche deliciously filled with foggy nights so wet you can feel the mist and hear the cobbles play a tune under horse hooves and carriage wheels.  The story is a confession of revenge and murder by Edward to his friend, Le Grice over drinks and we're all in for quite the tale of intrigue.

Edward Glapthorn is raised by his mother who writes novels long into the night to provide as best she can for her son.  There also exists a rosewood box containing 200 guineas left to him by a mysterious benefactor which makes his attending Eton a possibility.  Once there he has the misfortune of befriending Phoebus Daunt, whose petty jealousy of Edward's attention to others drives him to an act with serious consequences.

Eventually, through his work in the office of Tredgold, Tredgold & Orr, Edward begins to unravel the shocking and previously unknown details of his birth.  Some may find this chain of information and events somewhat coincidental but in no way did it lessen the thrill of the ride for me.  We also learn that Lord Tansor, an incredibly wealthy aristocrat and married to his second wife has yet to father an heir.  Desperate that he should have someone to leave his vast estate to, he visits Gray's Inn to have documents drawn up making the precocious son of the village rector his heir.  One Phoebus Daunt.

That the man who was the cause of Edward being removed from Eton, thereby ruining any chance of a successful career, should inherit such wealth so easily twists the knife.  Whilst mulling certain events and tidbits of information over in his mind, Edward consoles himself in the arms of an exotic lady of the night, Isabella Gallini.  Though she gives her body to others her heart belongs only to Edward.  On occasion, the irresistable pull of an opium den provides further distraction for our tortured man.

The vivid description of chop-houses, alleyways, shops and tolling bells had me desperately wanting to book a trip back to visit historic parts of London.  An outing by Edward and the breathtaking Emily Carteret to St Paul's, to climb the numerous steps to the Whispering Gallery and beyond had me picturing how one would manage it in yards of fabric, full petticoats and bustle!

For the duration in which Edward seeks ever more clarification regarding his birth, he is aware that someone constantly follows him.  In crowded streets there's a tap on the shoulder here or footsteps behind him in the dark there making for many an anxious outing.  I wondered how I would sleep at night knowing a villain was just waiting for me to leave the latch unlocked. 

Showing no economy with description, Cox takes his time arriving at the climax but it was well worth the wait.  The last few pages had me riveted, hand on my chest, holding my breath and at one point shouting 'oh no!' out loud. 

This story very much reminded me of Wilkie Collins, No Name, in which a character goes to any length to recover what is rightfully theirs.  I loved that book and I loved this one every bit as much.  Thankfully, in a state of sadness that I wasn't jetting off to anywhere exciting during a holiday last summer, I purchased both The Meaning of Night and The Glass of Time, its sequel.  Despite the first instalment being 600 pages I'm not the slightest bit hesitant to continue this story in the next fact, I can't wait!


  1. Oh, I do love a book that is just the thing you feel like reading and want nothing more than to be reading it!! Now that the weather is very slowly turning a little cooler, I am contemplating my fall reads and have been thinking of books I want to pick up. I've planned all year to read Wilkie Collins's No Name, but maybe it is time for this one as well? I love the cover of the sequel that you have on your sidebar, too! Happy reading--hope the next is as good as the first was!

  2. I love books that grab you like that!! Enjoy the sequel...

  3. What a wonderfully vivid review! I felt almost as excited and drawn in as you did, just reading it!
    It's good to have a sequel, too, as sometimes you just don't want to leave the characters you've 'lived with' for the duration of a book.

  4. It's a rare pleasure to find a Victorian pastiche that you can compare with the wonderful Mr Collins, isn't it? You are going to love that sequel!

  5. Danielle, You would love No Name! I promptly bought three more titles by Collins after reading it. There is definitely something about the cooler temps arriving which makes me want to read something with characters who wear clothes that swish. These Cox titles should be at your library should you want to have a peek!

    JoAnn, I'm already riveted...hooray! Enjoy your Bleak House, we're hanging out in the same era!

    Penny, So true...I did not want this one to end! Thankfully, I've found happiness again as the sequel is every bit as fun.

    fleurfisher, Thank you so much for being the one who had me go from thinking about reading this book to definitely grabbing it from my shelf! And yes, the follow-up is every bit as wonderful so far...

  6. Oh this sounds fantastic Darlene! I love the sound of anything that would remind me of Wilkie Collins! I'll put this on my amazon wishlist so I remember to get it when I come back from America - I'll be craving Britishness then!

  7. Rachel, My No Name read-along friend! So many books, so little time. You must be so excited for your adventure in the States to be underway!