The subtitle of Michael Cox's engrossing debut, The Meaning of Night is A Confession, and the book takes no time getting down to it: The narrator, Edward Glyver, has killed a man, and he shows little remorse. On the foggy streets of 1850s London, it's easy for a killer to escape undetected or so Glyver supposes, until he begins receiving mysterious communiquŽs from a blackmailer who seems to know about the events of that night. It is soon revealed that the first murder is merely setting the stage for a second, more meaningful plot rooted in childhood rivalries. Phoebus Daunt's lies caused Glyver to be expelled from Eton, ruining his hopes for an academic career, and Glyver has been planning his revenge for some 15 years. Cox, a scholar of Victorian literature and the author of a biography of the writer M.R. James, has the tone and style of the era down pat. The complicated plot there's much more to Daunt and Glyver's relationship than is initally revealed unfolds with all the richness and depth of a classic Victorian potboiler.

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