The memorable opening scene hooks you and from that point, there’s no looking back till the last page is turned. That’s what happens when you start reading Michael Cox’ The Meaning of the Night.
It is a riveting and atmospheric Dickensian peopled by finely drawn characters. Its main protagonist is Edward, a man consumed with his goal to destroy his arch enemy Phoebus Daunt. The story traces the beginnings of their deadly quarrel and reveals slowly and inexorably how the two men are intertwined far more than we imagine. This is not to say however, that Edward is the usual lily white hero of our favorite books. By his own account he is not a good man (the first scene immediately establishes that) and has done atrocious things, but such is the skill of the author that readers come to feel a sort of sympathy for him and his labors. An interesting facet to his character is his great knowledge of books, the more obscure and arcane the better. There are as well a host of other characters, each made memorable by the author’s skillful prose. Edward’s match, the beautiful Emily Carteret can be likened to the best of the noir genre’s femme fatale.
Equally remarkable in this tale is the wonderful description of Victorian London. Cox perfectly captures the atmosphere of those times and his prose specially shines when describing the various goings on in the underbelly of the great city, fittingly described as the Great Leviathan. It feels a little like reading a great Dickensian novel but without the fussiness (I dare say) of such novels.
And if this may seem like a hefty tome of a book, the fast paced narration, and the twists and turns guarantee that the pages fly by. And when the end does come, you’ll be haunted by the last words on the page.