Author: Michael Cox
Year of Publication: 2006
Genre: Historical fiction; Victorian-era mystery
My rating: 3.5 / 5 stars
"After killing the red-haired man, I took myself off to Quinn's for an oyster supper." The flippancy of Edward Glyver's opening line made me imagine him as a character out of Oscar Wilde's fiction, but it soon becomes clear that Glyver is much more tortured by his conscience than he initially admits. Though the novel begins with the murder and acquaints the reader with Edward's desire for revenge and the loss of his one true love, the narrator transitions into back story after about a hundred pages, and spends most of the novel - until the final 50 pages or so - describing everything that happened in Glyver's life up to the point that he kills the "red-haired man." This technique was disconcerting for a while, because the beginning section was so long that it caught me off guard when the "back story" became the primary part of the story. However, by the last 100 or so pages, there was a tantalizing discrepancy between what you knew would eventually happen to Edward, and what his life was like in the few months before the novel opened. I began reading so carefully, looking for any clues to explain who was going to wreck Edward's plans, and for what reason.
The middle section, though, was tediously long. The minor characters began blending together, and it seemed like too much of a coincidence that nearly everyone Edward met was also a bibliophile. I love reading about characters who love books, but this novel seemed a bit too preoccupied with specific editions of old, arcane books. It was interesting at first, but quickly became tiresome. Furthermore, there seemed to be no reason for the beginning to be as long as it did, either. Edward kept telling the reader that he would enlighten them in due time, but then I wondered why he would continue to narrate events that clearly made no sense without the back story he was preparing to relate.
I did admire the way that Cox was able to make the same Edward of the opening lines, a truly sympathetic figure by the end of the book, while not excusing any of his violent actions. I just felt sorry for the situation that he had been put in - him, and pretty much all of the characters of the book. Yes, it's rather depressing, but not in a totally hopeless way. Edward at least comes to appreciate how much his birth mother loved him and why she did what she did, and similarly how his adopted mother loved and sacrificed so much for him.
All in all, I would recommend this book to anyone who likes historical fiction set in this era - and who isn't afraid to tackle a book of this page length. The mystery, though compelling, seemed rather secondary to the main character's emotional development, so I wouldn't recommend it just for the mystery aspect.