Eighteenth- and 20th-century London merge as Nicholas Hawksmoor, C.I.D., investigates a series of murders whose only connection is locale18th-century churches constructed by Nicholas Dyer. Resisting modern, more systematic methods of detection, Hawksmoor interprets the historic connection between these places, old murders and new, slayers and slain, murderers and pursuers, defying time, religion, and reason itself. Despite exacting re-creation of Dyer's London and careful mirroring of 18th-century people and places in the 20th century, the novel lacks a focus that would make a point behind the wealth of detail. As it is, tantalizing symmetries, provocative discussions of architecture, debates on ancient and modern lead nowhere and frustrate the reader. Cynthia Johnson Whealler, Cary Memorial Lib., Lexington, Mass. Copyright 1986 Reed Business Information, Inc.
--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
About the Author
Peter Ackroyd is a well known writer and historian. He has been the literary editor of The Spectator and chief book reviewer for the The Times, as well as writing several highly acclaimed books including a biography of Dickens and London: The Biography. He resides in London and his most recent highly acclaimed work is Thames: Sacred River.
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22 of 23 people found the following review helpful
Brilliant bookJuly 13 2008
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"Hawksmoor" is actually one of my very favorite books, and certainly ranks with "Dan Leno and the Limehouse Golem" as one of Ackroyd's best. Yes, it does travel back and forth in time and space, but it is not difficult for an attentive reader to follow. Ackroyd's knowledge of the esoteric underpinnings of numerology and architecture, and his vast knowledge of the history and culture of London make this book a rewarding mystery. I cannot visit a Hawksmoor church now without this book haunting my steps.
I've read it repeatedly, and taught it in an "Alternative Londons" course (with "From Hell" and "Neverwhere", two more superior London books). Students have loved it. Not, perhaps to everyone's taste, but highly recommended. If you're looking for emotional ties to characters (as the other reviewer seemed to be), look elsewhere; part of the novel's mood lies in the icy detachment of the characters in both timelines. If you're looking for a brainy adventure with more than a touch of the creepy supernatural, this is a book for you.
13 of 14 people found the following review helpful
Flawed, but still a macabre tour-de-force.Jan. 3 2003
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Peter Ackroyd enjoys a deserved reputation as the foremost contemporary interpretor and historian of London, especially the city's hidden and arcane aspects. As a painter of London's underbelly he is unquestionably Dickens's heir. His feeling for the city as an almost living entity, oppressive in the accumulated weight of its sprawling physical structure and the mass of lives that have passed through it, and frequently been crushed in the process, is one shared probably more or less conciously by most Londoners. In such an environment, where the most modern buildings can stand on a street pattern centuries old, the present can never entirely cut itself free from the past. This is Ackroyd's main theme, brought to life with chilling brilliance in this story of murder and superstition in the 17th century sounding a physical echo in a series of slayings in the 20th. Be aware that this is not a simple murder mystery in period costume. The narrative is poetic and allusive with much, especially the ending, left for the reader to interpret. It is not wholly succesful in the intertwining of past and present. Ackroyd's 16th century London fizzes with life, the characters and the city brilliantly conjured (Ackroyd has a skilful ability to write in a way that is actually less archaic than it feels when caught up in the narrative flow). By contrast, he fails to breathe much life into the modern day scenes and characters. This may be partly an intentional contrast, but either way these scenes are rather flat. Nonetheless, the book is hugely enjoyable. The demonical architect Nicholas Dyer (the 20th c. detective is the Hawksmoor of the title) is a great creation, and the dark world he inhabits stands with the classics of the literature of the macabre and supernatural. It will certainly impell a London (or London bound) reader to explore the churches built by the historical Hawksmoor with new eyes, as however fantastical the story, the geography and architectural details are completely accurate. I remember well seeing tramps descend into the shelter in the understory of Christchurch Spitalfields. The structurally flawless (and very chilling) 'Dan Leno and the Limehouse Golem', which inhabits the London of Jack the Ripper and the heyday of the Music Hall, is also highly recommended.
8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
An Extraordinary BrewAug. 24 2009
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"An extraordinary brew" -- this description from the Financial Times is apt. The book is indeed extraordinary -- a pitch-perfect narrative from the early 18th century, written in period style, slang, and spelling, interspersed with what is ostensibly a modern crime novel. But the whole is very much a witches' brew, with undertones of persistent evil and echoes of the occult. The title character, Nicholas Hawksmoor, is a homicide detective, but do not be misled into thinking that this will turn out to be a simple whodunnit in which a brilliant feat of detection at the end will lay to rest the evils of the past. Chief Superintendent Hawksmoor does not appear until halfway through the book, and his function is more to draw out the miasma of mystery rather than dispel it.
The historical Hawksmoor was an English baroque architect, somewhat younger than Christopher Wren, responsible for rebuilding six of the London churches destroyed in the Great Fire. Whereas Wren's churches are models of classical restraint, Hawksmoor's often break with tradition with theatrical contrasts of mass and darkness; Ackroyd describes the combination as terror and magnificence. No doubt inspired by the man's extraordinary vision, and by the fact that the Office of Works at the time was located in Scotland Yard, Ackroyd has done a simple transposition, giving Hawksmoor's name to a modern detective and calling his architect Nicholas Dyer -- but Hawksmoor in all but name and beliefs. The two centuries are connected by much more than an exchange of names, however. Popular sayings, street songs, new images, and old superstitions zigzag between the alternating chapters, until the entire novel seems to be one unending nightmare. For Ackroyd's Dyer is a believer in a much older religion than Christianity, whose force reaches even to the present day.
I give the book four stars only because it is not my personal cup of tea and I found it challenging to read. But there is no doubt of Ackroyd's brilliance. Published in 1985, this is one of the first and best of those time-telescoping modern mysteries that have their roots in the past; think a small step away from the magic realism of Gabriel Garcia Marquez along a path leading eventually to Dan Brown. It is also amazingly informative. Ackroyd captures the 18th-century flavor perfectly with Dyer's writing, like a time-machine of period detail: "I had no sooner walked into Whitehall than I hollad for a Coach; it was of the Antique kind with Tin Sashes not Glass, pinked like the bottom of a Cullender that the Air might pass through the Holes: I placed my Eyes against them to see the Town as I passed within it and it was then broken into Peeces, with a Dog howling here and a Child running there...". No one sample does justice to the riches of the whole. My only problem is that the chapters are long, and the modern episodes which might have been expected to give variety, seem gray by comparison and unbearably -- though necessarily -- claustrophobic.
11 of 13 people found the following review helpful
In praise of Hawksmoor!Sept. 14 1999
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Unlike some readers who have reviewed this work, I found it utterly compelling. The atmosphere of old London was masterfully evoked and the psychology of the principal characters was particularly well wrought. That Nicholas Dyer was a master of the "Magick Arts" but was beset by paranoia and depression, let alone his physical ills, made him an entirely believable person; very different from the usual fictional mage who is master of everything. Likewise, Hawksmoor's mental disorder and gradually loosening grip on his reality made for a sadly credible character. I found the 18th century style of writing to be highly readable with a minimum of effort, yet it added greatly to the creation of the atmosphere of the historical period. I think that the author must have devoted a great deal of careful attention to this aspect of the novel; as he must also have done to his researches into the churches and geography of old London. A dark and scary story; and I am slightly spooked that I found my copy at a second hand stall near the Thames just after a walk that had taken me unknowingly past St. Mary Woolnoth's church and a number of other locations in the book !
9 of 11 people found the following review helpful
Not the best introduction to AckroydFeb. 15 2002
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The historical detail in this book is fabulous - I work opposite Christ Church in Spitalfields and I am intrigued to know more about the real Nicholas Hawksmoor. What interests me is where Ackroyd had the idea to make Hawksmoor a Satanist and to interpret the architecture of these churches so as to see occult references everywhere. The story itself, though, was heavy-going and I almost did not finish the book. The book, whilst interesting, was somewhat disappointing compared to Ackroyd's other works. (I previously reviewed this in 1999 and my opinion has not changed) If you are interested in Peter Ackroyd or historical London, his biographies of Dickens and London are terrific.