Monday, June 13, 2011

The Meaning Of Night
by Michael Cox, McClelland & Stewart, Toronto, 2006,600 pages.

This is one of the best historical crime novels ever published in many a year. It uses a near-Dickensian style to present a remarkably well-plotted mystery tale of thwarted inheritance, obsessive love, and implacable revenge.
Focused mainly on a family feud between a poet-criminal and a book-loving murderer, The Meaning Of Night has a huge supporting cast of sundry beauties, double-crossers, stout friends, lawyers, thugs, and other colourful characters. All luridly set in London of the 1850s, complete with menacing fog-shrouded streets, dank slums, brothels, opium dens, posh clubs, a titled country estate, and sundry other accurate, contemporary details.
British author Michael Cox planned the saga fitfully for 30 years, and only settled down to write it while undergoing treatment for cancer that threatened to take his eyesight. Happily, his vision was saved, but Cox credits the side-effects of medication with providing such manic energy that he was able to dash off the, manuscript straight through within a few months.

The result is an enjoyably old-fashioned tale focussed on purloined documents. Add casual murders, laced with arcane literary allusions and historical footnotes. Its labyrinthine story is told in elegant Victorian language and time shifts. that demand readers to pay close attention. Small wonder The Meaning of Night brought Cox a million-dollar advance, and is now on sale in 24 countries world-wide. Simply a thumping good read.

-- Review by Sidney Allinson.

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