Excerpt from The Meaning of Night by Michael Cox, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

Summary |  Excerpt |  Reading Guide |  Reviews |  Beyond the Book |  Readalikes |  Genres & Themes |  Author Bio

The Meaning of Night

A Confession

by Michael Cox

The Meaning of Night by Michael Cox X
The Meaning of Night by Michael Cox
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

  • First Published:
    Sep 2006, 672 pages

    Paperback:
    Oct 2007, 704 pages

    Genres

  • Rate this book


Book Reviewed by:
BookBrowse Review Team
Buy This Book

About this Book

Print Excerpt

Part the First
Death of a Stranger
October–November 1854

What a skein of ruffled silk is the uncomposed man.

Owen Felltham, Resolves (1623), ii, ‘Of Resolution’

1
Exordium[1]

After killing the red-haired man, I took myself off to Quinn’s[2]  for an oyster supper.

It had been surprisingly – almost laughably – easy. I had followed him for some distance, after first observing him in Threadneedle-street. I cannot say why I decided it should be him, and not one of the others on whom my searching eye had alighted that evening. I had been walking for an hour or more in the vicinity with one purpose: to find someone to kill. Then I saw him, outside the entrance to the Bank, amongst a huddle of pedestrians waiting for the crossing-sweeper to do his work. Somehow he seemed to stand out from the crowd of identically dressed clerks and City men streaming forth from the premises. He stood regarding the milling scene around him, as if turning something over in his mind. I thought for a moment that he was about to retrace his steps; instead, he pulled on his gloves, moved away from the crossing point, and set off briskly. A few seconds later, I began to follow him.

We proceeded steadily westwards through the raw October cold and the thickening mist. At length he turned into a narrow court that cut through to the Strand, not much more than a passage, flanked on either side by high windowless walls. I glanced up at the discoloured sign – ‘Cain-court’ – then hung back, to make sure the court was deserted.

My victim, all unsuspecting, continued on his way; but before he had time to reach the steps at the far end, I had caught up with him noiselessly and had sunk the blade of my knife deep into his neck.

I had expected him to fall instantly forwards with the force of the blow; but, curiously, he dropped to his knees, with a soft gasp, his arms by his side, his stick clattering to the floor, and remained in that position for some seconds, like an enraptured devotee before a shrine.

As I withdrew the blade, I moved forwards slightly. It was then I noticed for the first time that his hair, where it showed beneath his hat, was, like his neatly trimmed whiskers, a distinct shade of red. For a brief moment, before he gently collapsed sideways, he looked at me: not only looked at me, but – I swear – smiled, though in truth I now suppose it was the consequence of some involuntary spasm brought about by the withdrawal of the blade.

He lay, illuminated by a narrow shaft of pale yellow light flung out by the gas-lamp at the top of the passage steps, in a slowly widening pool of dark blood that contrasted oddly with the carrotty hue of his hair and whiskers. He was dead for certain. 

I stood for a moment, looking about me. A sound, perhaps, somewhere behind me in the dark recesses of the court? Had I been observed? No; all was still. I dropped the knife down a grating, along with my gloves – an old pair, with no maker’s label – and walked smartly away, down the dimly lit steps, and into the enfolding, anonymous bustle of the Strand.

Now I knew that I could do it; but it gave me no pleasure. The poor fellow had done me no harm. Luck had simply been against him – and the colour of his hair, which, I now saw, had been his fatal distinction. His way that night, inauspiciously coinciding with mine in Threadneedle-street, had made him the unwitting object of my irrevocable intention to kill someone; but had it not been him, it must have been someone else.

Until the very moment in which the blow had been struck, I had not known definitively that I was capable of such a terrible act, and it was absolutely necessary to put the matter beyond all doubt. For the despatching of the red-haired man was in the nature of a trial, or experiment, to prove to myself that I could indeed take another human life, and escape the consequences. When I next raised my hand in anger, it must be with the same swift and sure determination; but this time it would be directed, not at a stranger, but at the man I call my enemy. 

Excerpted from The Meaning of the Night, copyright (c) 2006 by Michael Cox. Reproduced with permission of the publisher, W.W.Norton and Company. All rights reserved

Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" articles
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $45 for 12 months or $15 for 3 months.
  • More about membership!

Join BookBrowse

and discover exceptional books
for just $3.75 per month.

Find out more


Top Picks

  • Book Jacket: Bitch
    Bitch
    by Lucy Cooke
    In middle school biology class, many of us were told that men hunt and women nest, that testosterone...
  • Book Jacket: Jackie & Me
    Jackie & Me
    by Louis Bayard
    Louis Bayard's Jackie & Me offers a fictionalized version of the early relationship between John F. ...
  • Book Jacket: The Facemaker
    The Facemaker
    by Lindsey Fitzharris
    The summer of 1914 saw the beginning of World War I, the bloody conflict known as the 'war to end ...
  • Book Jacket: How to Read Now
    How to Read Now
    by Elaine Castillo
    Toni Morrison once wrote, 'My project rises from delight, not disappointment.' This remark appeared ...

Members Recommend

  • Book Jacket

    Dirt Creek
    by Hayley Scrivenor

    "A heart-wrenching mystery, Scrivenor's remarkable sense of place brings Dirt Creek to life. A stellar debut."
    —Jane Harper,

  • Book Jacket

    Some of It Was Real
    by Nan Fischer

    A psychic on the verge of stardom and a cynical journalist are brought together by secrets that threaten to tear them apart.

Who Said...

To be ignorant of what occurred before you were born is to remain always a child

Click Here to find out who said this, as well as discovering other famous literary quotes!

Wordplay

Solve this clue:

I Wishes W H B W R

and be entered to win..

Books that     
entertain,
     engage

 & enlighten

Visitors can view some of BookBrowse for free. Full access is for members only.

Join Today!

Your guide toexceptional          books

BookBrowse seeks out and recommends the best in contemporary fiction and nonfiction—books that not only engage and entertain but also deepen our understanding of ourselves and the world around us.