A revenge epic (think Count of Monte Cristo), set in 1854 London, Michael Cox’s first novel still possesses a curiously modern sensibility. Dickens, for instance, would never begin a book, "After killing the red-haired man, I took myself off to Quinn’s for an oyster supper."
Narrator Edward Glyver has legitimate grievances against well-known poet Phoebus Daunt, who contrived to have Glyver expelled ignominiously from school, who is about to be named heir to a fortune and estate rightfully Glyver’s, and who has designs on the exquisite Emily Carteret, Glyver’s intended. Yet Glyver himself risks losing the reader’s sympathy with his casual approach to violence, his treatment of a woman who loves him, his nasty opium habit, his whoring. Victorian characters tended to be more black and white, and Cox’s noir-ish approach re-imagines the period’s literature.
The novel takes about 200 pages (out of 700) to get going, but the ground needs to be carefully prepared to render credible such plot devices as hidden identities, deciphered documents, intricate plots, breathtaking betrayals, a midnight mausoleum violation, and more.