The Meaning of Night: A Confession

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

So begins an extraordinary story of betrayal and treachery, of delusion and deceit narrated by Edward Glyver. Glyver may be a bibliophile, but he is no bookworm. Employed “in a private capacity” by one of Victorian London’s top lawyers, he knows his Macrobius from his First Folio, but he has the street-smarts and ruthlessness of a Philip Marlowe. And just as it is with many a contemporary detective, one can’t always be sure ...

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

So begins an extraordinary story of betrayal and treachery, of delusion and deceit narrated by Edward Glyver. Glyver may be a bibliophile, but he is no bookworm. Employed “in a private capacity” by one of Victorian London’s top lawyers, he knows his Macrobius from his First Folio, but he has the street-smarts and ruthlessness of a Philip Marlowe. And just as it is with many a contemporary detective, one can’t always be sure whether Glyver is acting on the side of right or wrong.

As the novel begins, Glyver silently stabs a stranger from behind, killing him apparently at random. But though he has committed a callous and brutal crime, Glyver soon reveals himself to be a sympathetic and seductively charming narrator. In fact, Edward Glyver keeps the reader spellbound for 600 riveting pages full of betrayal, twists, lies, and obsession.

Glyver has an unforgettable story to tell. Raised in straitened circumstances by his novelist mother, he attended Eton thanks to the munificence of a mysterious benefactor. After his mother’s death, Glyver is not sure what path to take in life. Should he explore the new art of photography, take a job at the British Museum, continue his travels in Europe with his friend Le Grice? But then, going through his mother’s papers, he discovers something that seems unbelievable: the woman who raised him was not his mother at all. He is actually the son of Lord Tansor, one of the richest and most powerful men in England.

Naturally, Glyver sets out to prove his case. But he lacks evidence, and while trying to find it under the alias “Edward Glapthorn,” he discovers that one person stands between him and his birthright: his old schoolmate and rival Phoebus Rainsford Daunt, a popular poet (and secret criminal) whom Lord Tansor has taken a decidedly paternal interest in after the death of his only son.

Glyver’s mission to regain his patrimony takes him from the heights of society to its lowest depths, from brothels and opium dens to Cambridge colleges and the idylls of Evenwood, the Tansor family’s ancestral home. Glyver is tough and resourceful, but Daunt always seems to be a step ahead, at least until Glyver meets the beguilingly beautiful Emily Carteret, daughter of Lord Tansor’s secretary.

But nothing is as it seems in this accomplished, suspenseful novel. Glyver’s employer Tredgold warns him to trust no one: Is his enigmatic neighbour Fordyce Jukes spying on him? Is the brutal murderer Josiah Pluckthorn on his trail? And is Glyver himself, driven half-mad by the desire for revenge, telling us the whole truth in his candid, but very artful, “confession”?

A global phenomenon, The Meaning of Night is an addictive, darkly funny, and completely captivating novel. Meticulously researched and utterly gripping, it draws its readers relentlessly forward until its compelling narrator’s final revelations.

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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
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"When a passionate nature is thwarted in its desires, the consequences can be extreme."

Edward Glyver has a confession to make: He's responsible for an unsolved, entirely random murder in Victorian London. But there are untold confessions to come, starting with the fact that Glyver is not his real name, and that his true identity, as heir to one of England's wealthiest and most influential peerages, is slowly being usurped by his childhood archrival, Phoebus Daunt.

Unwilling to accept the middle-class fate chosen for him by his mother, Edward plumbs the truth of his heritage. Deftly navigating the murky confines of London in his quest to find his mark -- an unscrupulous con man who has charmed Edward's father into making him heir to the estate -- Edward succumbs to a vice that has precipitated the downfall of many before him: revenge.

What makes The Meaning of Night so utterly fascinating is the way in which Edward's obsession slowly, insidiously corrodes his own conscience. As he slides, almost too effortlessly and without real regret, from the position of wronged victim into that of victimizer, Cox suggests that the ultimate face-off between Edward and Daunt is not so much a struggle between right and wrong as a precursor to the loss of principles that characterizes the post-Victorian age. A bravura performance. (Holiday 2006 Selection)
Maureen Corrigan
Cox knows his stuff -- and some of his characters and plot elements faintly recall the books he's learned from, such as Sheridan Le Fanu's Uncle Silas. The Meaning of Night even comes replete with footnotes, Latin chapter titles and quotations, as well as a sprinkling of contemporary argot and slang. The editor's pseudo-scholarly preface cautiously describes the manuscript as "one of the lost curiosities of nineteenth-century literature."It is that and more. However you judge Edward Glyver himself, he certainly tells an engrossing and complicated tale of deception, heartlessness and wild justice, one that touches on nearly every aspect of Victorian society. At 700 pages, it should while away more than a few chilly autumn evenings.
— The Washington Post
Publishers Weekly
Resonant with echoes of Wilkie Collins and Charles Dickens, Cox's richly imagined thriller features an unreliable narrator, Edward Glyver, who opens his chilling "confession" with a cold-blooded account of an anonymous murder that he commits one night on the streets of 1854 London. That killing is mere training for his planned assassination of Phoebus Daunt, an acquaintance Glyver blames for virtually every downturn in his life. Glyver feels Daunt's insidious influence in everything from his humiliating expulsion from school to his dismal career as a law firm factotum. The narrative ultimately centers on the monomaniacal Glyver's discovery of a usurped inheritance that should have been his birthright, the byzantine particulars of which are drawing him into a final, fatal confrontation with Daunt. Cox's tale abounds with startling surprises that are made credible by its scrupulously researched background and details of everyday Victorian life. Its exemplary blend of intrigue, history and romance mark a stand-out literary debut. Cox is also the author of M.R. James, a biography of the classic ghost-story writer. 10-city author tour. (Sept.) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
This stunning first novel by Cox (editor, The Oxford Book of English Ghost Stories) opens with a murder on a misty night in 1854 London. The perpetrator, Edward Glyver, is an erudite bibliophile and resourceful detective who assumes different names and personas with disquieting ease. He stabs a total stranger as a precursor to murdering his cunning adversary, Phoebus Daunt, a literary genius who expects to be adopted as heir by the wealthy Lord Tansor. When Glyver discovers that Daunt has destroyed the only evidence that Glyver, in fact, is Tansor's real son, he becomes obsessed with seeking revenge and claiming his rightful inheritance. From the whorehouses, pubs, and opium dens of Victorian London to the ancient beauty of Tansor's ancestral estate, Cox creates a strong sense of place, a complex narrative full of unexpectedly wicked twists, and a well-drawn cast of supporting characters. His language is mesmerizing, and his themes of betrayal, revenge, social stratification, sexual repression, and moral hypocrisy echo those of the great 19th-century novelists. Written in the tradition of Michel Faber's The Crimson Petal and the White and Sarah Waters's Fingersmith, Cox's masterpiece is highly recommended for all fiction collections. [See Prepub Alert, LJ 6/1/06.]-Joseph M. Eagan, Enoch Pratt Free Lib., Baltimore Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
A bibliophilic, cozy, murderous confection out of foggy old England. Mystery writers who have taken up residence in the Victorian era have concentrated mostly on the later years, when Sherlock Holmes and Jack the Ripper haunted the streets of London. Cox, biographer of M.R. James and anthologist of other Victorian scary storytellers, plants his pleasantly meandering story early in Victoria and Albert's rule, a time when the old class system was fraying at the edges while hungry country folk and proletarians began to push for a bigger piece of the butterpie. Our dark hero, Edward Glyver, aka Edward Glapthorn, has many a grievance to lodge: He is, or at least believes himself to be, or at least professes to be-he's a most complex fellow, and we can never be sure-a bastard in the classic sense, sired by a booming war hero whom only Aubrey Smith could play. He has also been sorely wronged by the deeply class-conscious, deeply disagreeable Phoebus Daunt, who survives boarding school and all its buggeries and betrayals only to spill out Swinburnesque verse. Annoyed, jealous, downright irritated, E.G. does the natural thing: A bookish sort with a criminal streak a league wide, he slaughters an apparently innocent fellow in the wrong place at the wrong time. "You must understand," he intones, "that I am not a murderer by nature, only by temporary design." Ah, but someone has seen, and now neatly nibbed notes are arriving under his door and that of his intended, warning her that she had better steer clear and that he had better watch his back. Who is writing these notes? Who would want to harm our blameless E.G.? Whom should E.G. massacre next to protect his assets?Cox has a fine time putting allthese questions into play in this long, learned and remarkably entertaining treat, which begs comparison with the work of Patricia Highsmith.
From the Publisher
“A blockbuster novel…. Bravo!”
The Gazette (Montreal)

“Worth staying up all night for.”
The Times

“As beguiling as it is intelligent.”
New York Times Book Review

“This year’s Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell.”
GQ magazine

Winnipeg Free Press

“Superb. . . . An engrossing and complicated tale of deception, heartlessness and wild justice.”
Washington Post

“Magnificent. . . . A monumental narrative that is deeply satisfying.”
National Post

“Thrilling. . . . An entertaining love letter to the bizarre and dangerous hypocrisies of Victorian England.”
The Independent

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780393330342
  • Publisher: Norton, W. W. & Company, Inc.
  • Publication date: 10/1/2007
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 720
  • Sales rank: 170,675
  • Product dimensions: 5.50 (w) x 8.30 (h) x 1.40 (d)

Meet the Author

Michael Cox edited The Oxford Book of English Ghost Stories and The Oxford Book of Victorian Detective Stories. In 1974, in between releasing records for EMI under the name Matthew Ellis, he began what was to become The Meaning of Night. Originally published in 2006 to international acclaim, The Meaning of Night was shortlisted for the 2007 Costa First Novel Award, and Cox was nominated for Waterstone’s Newcomer of the Year at the 2006 Galaxy British Book Awards. Michael Cox passed away in 2009.

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Read an Excerpt

Editor’s Preface

The following work, printed here for the first time, is one of the lost curiosities of nineteenth-century literature. It is a strange concoction, being a kind of confession, often shocking in its frank, conscienceless brutality and explicit sexuality, that also has a strongly novelistic flavour; indeed, it appears in the hand-list that accompanies the Duport papers in the Cambridge University Library with the annotation ‘(Fiction?)’. Many of the presented facts — names, places, events (including the unprovoked murder of Lucas Trendle) — that I have been able to check are verifiable; others appear dubious at best or have been deliberately falsified, distorted, or simply invented. Real people move briefly in and out of the narrative, others remain unidentified — or unidentifiable — or are perhaps pseudonymous. As the author himself says, ‘The boundaries of this world are forever shifting — from day to night, joy to sorrow, love to hate, and from life itself to death.’ And, he might have added, from fact to fiction.

As to the author, despite his desire to confess all to posterity, his own identity remains a tantalizing mystery. His name as given here, Edward Charles Glyver, does not appear in the Eton Lists of the period, and I have been unable to trace it or any of his pseudonyms in any other source, including the London Post-office Directories for the relevant years. Perhaps, after we have read these confessions, this should not surprise us; yet it is strange that someone who wished to lay his soul bare to posterity in this way chose not to reveal his real name. I simply do not know how to account for this, but note the anomaly in the hope that further research, perhaps by other scholars, may unravel the mystery.

His adversary Phoebus Daunt, on the other hand, is real enough. The main events of his life may be traced in various contemporary sources. He may be found, for instance, in both the Eton Lists and in Venn’s Alumni Cantabrigienses, and is mentioned in several literary memoirs of the period — though on his supposed criminal career the historical record is silent. On the other hand, his now (deservedly) forgotten literary works, consisting principally of turgid historical and mythological epics and a few slight volumes of poems and poetic translations, once enjoyed a fleeting popularity. They may still be sought out by the curious in specialist libraries and booksellers’ catalogues (as can his father’s edition of Catullus, mentioned in the text), and perhaps may yet furnish some industrious PhD student with a dissertation subject.

The text has been transcribed, more or less verbatim, from the unique holograph manuscript now held in the Cambridge University Library. The manuscript came to the CUL in 1948 as part of an anonymous bequest, with other papers and books relating to the Duport family of Evenwood in Northamptonshire. It is written, for the most part, in a clear and confident hand on large-quarto lined sheets, the whole being bound in dark-red morocco (by R. Riviere, Great Queen Street) with the Duport arms blocked in gold on the front. Despite a few passages where the author’s hand deteriorates, apparently under psychological duress, or perhaps as a result of his opium habit, there are relatively few deletions, additions, or other amendments. In addition to the author’s narrative there are several interpolated documents and extracts by other hands.

I have made a number of silent emendments in matters of orthography, punctuation, and so on; and because the MS lacks a title, I have used a phrase from one of the prefatory quotations, the source of which is a poem, appropriately enough, from the pen of P. Rainsford Daunt himself. I have also supplied titles for each of the five parts, and for the five sections of the so-called Intermezzo.

The sometimes enigmatic Latin titles to the forty-seven sections or chapters have been retained (their idiosyncrasy seemed typical of the author), though I have provided translations. On the first leaf of the manuscript are a dozen or so quotations from Owen Felltham’s Resolves, some of which I have used as epigraphs to each of the five parts. Throughout the text, my own editorial interpolations and footnotes are given within square brackets.

J.J. Antrobus
Professor of Post-Authentic Victorian Fiction
University of Cambridge

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Reading Group Guide

1. Do you find Edward Glyver (Glapthorn) an appealing main character? Why, or why not?

2. What is the importance of fate in The Meaning of Night? How does it change over the course of the book?

3. How do the footnotes provided by the “editor” change your impressions of The Meaning of Night?

4. What does the inclusion of Glyver’s poetic (sometimes opium-fuelled) dreams add to the novel?

5. What are the meanings of the title, The Meaning of Night?

6. Do you think The Meaning of Night would make an entertaining film? Why so–or why not? Who would you cast as the protagonists of your film version, and who would you have direct?

7. In an interview, Michael Cox wondered whether Edward Glyver might suffer from a certain weakness:

“He’s so sure of himself. He describes himself as resourceful, street-wise, physically strong, intellectually strong. He thinks that pretty much anything that is thrown at him, whether it’s physical or mental, he can deal with. But in fact he gets it wrong all the time. Miscomprehension is one of his major flaws, and that is a kind of blindness.”

What does Glyver get wrong in the novel? Is he a reliable narrator?

8. How does London differ from Evenwood in The Meaning of Night? How are they described? Is there a sense in which these settings might be considered “characters” in the novel?

9. If you were to meet Michael Cox, what would you ask him about his book or his characters?

10. What other books would you compare The Meaning of Night to? Do you find the book more similar to works by contemporary authors or Victorian ones?

11. Who do you find the most compelling secondary character in the book, and why?

12. What are your criticisms of The Meaning of Night? What would you have liked to see more, or less of, if anything?

13. Does reading The Meaning of Night change your sense of the Victorian era? How?

14. Do you find the conclusion of the novel satisfying?

15. Would you recommend this book to a friend? Why, or why not?

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4
( 137 )
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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 137 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted November 7, 2007

    A reviewer

    The Meaning of Night offers readers an in depth personal view on a wide range of characters possessing strong unique personalities. Michael Cox delivers the full spectrum of human emotion, as well as the extreme moral dilemmas that one can face when living as a character betrayed by a fate beyond his control. I can promise you will be hooked from the start and come away with an increased knowledge of the most intense character traits that we all can have the potential of acquiring.

    15 out of 16 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 3, 2009

    I Also Recommend:

    A Wonderful Read

    I loved this book!!! It's rare to find a book that does it all. It was extremely satisfying as a thriller, as literature, as a historical novel, and as a dark comedy. It dumbfounds me when others say it was too long. When a book is great, why would you ever want it to end?

    14 out of 15 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted January 31, 2009

    I thoroughly enjoyed this novel

    Michael Cox is, in my opinion, a terrific story teller, I could not put the book down. My only disappointment was that it had to end, I wanted more.

    8 out of 8 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted May 2, 2009

    I Also Recommend:

    Triumph and Tragedy

    Edward Glyver is the definition of a tragic hero--smart, cunning, attractive, passionate, vengeful, secret. He is the man with a past shrouded in darkness darker than night itself; his quest to uncover Pilate's question is one that not only transports us into Victorian England but puts on a moral play for all sinners and saints to contemplate. With a colorful cast of characters that, by the end of the book, you will feel as if they were old friends or enemies The Meaning of Night charms us and captivates us. It strings us along vital piece to vital piece always wanting more until the book finalizes itself in a awe-inspiring, page turning climax of deceit, downfall, and danger. This is a must read for any lover of thrill, mystery, murder, or good literature--this is sure to become a classic!
    Michael Cox does a brilliant job of sewing fact and fiction, history and fantasy, truth and light into his freshman novel--The Meaning of Night. It will leave you with the question, Pilate's Question. Make sure you read every inch of text on the book, they can only give you a more vivid image or greater insight into the world of our hero(?) and they only provide a more mysterious and mystical sense to the book that is sure to please. A definite favourite!

    7 out of 7 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted January 13, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    Magnificent story with descriptive details

    Michael Cox has written a brilliant novel. Very descriptive, a vast array of emotions thoroughly displayed, and a plot that is very captivating (as well as believable). He captures the settings of each location immaculately, and personifies each character with splendid realism. Although this is written as fiction, it would not strike me odd were it to be true. <BR/><BR/>My only criticisms are: there are few "true" surprises throughout the story and there are two or three chapters that I was unengaged in. However, neither of these critiques are strong enough to lower the book's rating to four stars. It truly is a wonderfully written novel, and I am eager to read the sequel.

    6 out of 6 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 9, 2009


    This book had it all!! Deceit, betrayal, hearts broken and love too. If your looking for a big juicy book that has everything then THE MEANING OF NIGHT is it!!! i couldn't put it down. A victorian mystery that's laced with fiction and facts. Curl up for the night and indulge, be prepared to be transported back in time.

    6 out of 6 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted February 2, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    a high five for this victorian thriller

    'After killing the red-haired man, I took myself off to Quinn's for an oyster supper.' Who could stop reading after such an opening sentence? Cox's monumental novel is subtitled 'A Confession,' could it be that is taken care of on page 1? Not quite. 'The Meaning Of Night' is a labyrinthian journey through mid 19th century England, from the dank brothel lined streets of London to the elegance of Evenwood, a luxurious country home. The story is told ala Dickens, rich with Victorian language and copious footnotes. Our narrator is Edward Glyver who well remembers that the first word he ever heard used to describe him was 'resourceful.' He is that and more. As a youngster he was the victim of a plot executed by Phoebus Rainsford Daunt, a fellow schoolboy. Edward was dismissed and sent home. However, we're reminded that 'revenge has a long memory ' in this case, some two decades. As the tale evolves, both Edward and Phoebus are rivals again. Following the death of Edward's mother he has reason to believe that his parentage is not what he thought it to be. Lord Tansor, master of Evenwood, is childless and has yet to choose an heir. Could that heir be Edward? This is a prize that Phoebus also pursues - not with honor we might add as he's both poet and shyster. Lord Tansor's cousin, the mysterious and beautiful Emily Carteret, is also a prize that both men would win. 'The Meaning of Night' is a weighty read (700 pages) and a virtuoso accomplishment by the author. Those who appreciate Victorian thrillers will find pleasure in every sentence. Highly recommended. - Gail Cooke

    6 out of 6 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted October 30, 2008

    more from this reviewer

    Long but great book.

    After reading the first page, I found it impossible not to buy the book. At certain points, the building was a bit slow but I tend to enjoy that elaborate detail. I wouldn't so much suggest this book for the light reader, but definitely for those who have an interest in this type of literature.

    5 out of 5 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 7, 2009


    I really enjoyed this novel. It is very interesting. The characters are so realistic, at times, I forgot I was reading a fiction novel. The author gives in depth detail and description throughout the book. It became a bit lengthy at times, but still a wonderful read.

    4 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted March 21, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    One of the best books I ever read!

    I just finished reading it; this was one of the best books I have ever read. Complex characters, great story line, unpredicatable, I could not put it down. I was dissapointed however to find out that this is the only book the author has ever written. Would definitely like to read more of his work.

    4 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 12, 2009

    Enjoyable read, looking forward to reading sequel

    Could have possibly been shorter, but was a good story. I had trouble putting it down!

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted November 28, 2008

    I Also Recommend:

    One of my favorites...

    One of my favorite novels (along with the sequel). A thinker's book with a twist! Enjoy!

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 28, 2008

    Completely Engrossing

    I chanced upon this book and I highly recommend this to all readers. It is so fascinating and I was sorry when I came to complete this thoroughly compelling read.

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 25, 2008


    Kudos to Michael Cox! A master of his craft. I am only halfway through the book and I'm captivated and intrigued. The style of writing is impeccable. I can't wait to find out what happens at the end, although I'm in no hurry because the book is that good.

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 20, 2008

    What a book!

    If you have read this, I would also suggest listening to the audio book. It is absolutely captivating! I even had to sit in my car a couple of times to see how things would turn out. If Mr. Cox has a sequel to this I really can't wait.

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted December 9, 2008

    more from this reviewer

    A real page turner

    In 1854 London, Edward Glyver knows he needs to train before he conducts his assassination of Phoebus Daunt, the man who destroyed his life starting with the humiliation of being ejected from school to where he is at now, as a loser in a law factotum. To insure success, Edward kills the red-haired stranger before dining on oyster and pondering how easy the homicide was.----------------- However, his moment of euphoria turns ugly when he thinks of what Daunt has done to him and that he recently learned of his rightful inheritance stolen from him. He feels strongly that once Daunt is dead, he will gain all that he deserves starting with his inheritance, societal accolades and the lovely Emily Carteret. Yet somehow someone has seen his rehearsal. E.G. knows he must dispose of this insidious individual trying to take the little he owns and slowing down his quest to murder his real adversary.--------------------- This is a fascinating ¿confession¿ told for the most part by the seemingly deranged E.G. The story line grips the audience from the onset when the lead character nonchalantly confesses that he has just killed a man for purposes of practice so that the reader senses of how insane E.G. really isis. The story line never falters until the anticipated confrontation that will turn readers into fans of Michael Cox. Readers who want something different in their historical thrillers will need to read Mr. Cox¿s eerie ¿biographical¿ Victorian first hand account of a maniac on the loose in London.----------- Harriet Klausner

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted September 1, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    Too Boring to Finish

    I keep trying to pick it back up and read it but I just can't.

    2 out of 14 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 16, 2008

    I Also Recommend:

    Great Story...but, could have been a little shorter.

    I bought this book first, because it was recommended by B&N and secondly, because it was highly recommended in reviews. I have to admit, the story is good and keeps you guessing. But, it just takes him sooo long to get there. I struggled through the first third of the book, started getting into the second third of the book and really enjoyed the last third. If I had not suggested this for book club, I'm not sure I would have stuck with it. I'm glad I did...because it does end well.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 25, 2008

    Absolutely wonderful.....

    I could not put this book down. I went to the beach on vacation and opened the book and sat there for two days reading it. The story was great, the deceit done to Mr. Glyver was awful, I wanted to get into the book and take care of Mr. Daunt myself.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 20, 2008

    great great read

    This is an absolutley fantastic book. I can't wait for the sequel. Great character development.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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