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Hawksmoor (Penguin Decades) [Paperback]

Peter Ackroyd
3.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (31 customer reviews)
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Book Description

1 April 2010 Penguin Decades

Penguin Decades bring you the novels that helped shape modern Britain. When they were published, some were bestsellers, some were considered scandalous, and others were simply misunderstood. All represent their time and helped define their generation, while today each is considered a landmark work of storytelling.

Peter Ackroyd's Hawksmoor was first published in 1985. Alternating between the eighteenth century, when Nicholas Dyer, assistant to Christopher Wren, builds seven London churches that house a terrible secret, and the 1980s, when London detective Nicholas Hawksmoor is investigating a series of gruesome murders on the sight of certain old churches, Hawksmoor is a brilliant tale of darkness and shadow.

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Hawksmoor (Penguin Decades) + Lud Heat: A Book of the Dead Hamlets
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Product details

  • Paperback: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin; Re-issue edition (1 April 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 014104201X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0141042015
  • Product Dimensions: 12.9 x 19.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (31 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 24,306 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Peter Ackroyd is the author of biographies of Dickens, Blake and Thomas More and of the acclaimed non-fiction bestsellers London: The Biography and Thames: Sacred River. Peter Ackroyd is an award-winning novelist, as well as a broadcaster, biographer, poet and historian. He has won the Whitbread Biography Award, the Royal Society of Literature's William Heinemann Award, the James Tait Black Memorial Prize, the Guardian Fiction Prize, the Somerset Maugham Award and the South Bank Prize for Literature. He holds a CBE for services to literature.

Product Description


“Derek Jacobi romps through the rococo phrasing with such competence that it’s hard to stop listening to this tale”
Independent 15/3/97

--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From the Back Cover

London in the eighteenth century is a city of extremes: squalor and superstition vie with elegance and enlightenment as the capital's brilliant architect Nicholas Dyer is commissioned to build several new churches in the aftermath of the Great Fire.

Two hundred and fifty years later in the vast, sprawling metropolis of London the legacy of the past lives on, as CID Detective Nicholas Hawksmoor investigates a series of macabre murders that have occurred on the sites of certain eighteenth century churches in the city…

"Brilliant…Ackroyd gives a virtuoso display of his talent for catching not just the tone of voice but also the cast of mind of long dead men, and linking it to our modern world imaginatively"

--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
20 of 20 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars In Two Minds 6 Feb 2011
By Mrs. K. A. Wheatley TOP 500 REVIEWER VINE VOICE
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
This is a strange, dark and compelling book. Taking as his inspiration, a poem by Ian Sinclair, Ackroyd has written a tense, noir story about Nicholas Dyer, the creator of seven of London's most unusual churches, after the great fire of London. The book toggles between Dyer's narrative and the twentieth century story of Nicholas Hawksmoor, an old school police detective, who sets out to solve a series of seemingly inexplicable murders linked to the churches in question.

The story is part ghost story, part thriller, part historical novel, part mystical exploration. It is also a hymn to London and the fantastic and unique architecture and history it contains.

It is hard to classify a book such as this, and I'm still not entirely sure how I feel about it. It has unsettled me, unnerved me and made me think. It is not an easy read, but it is a compulsive page turner, and if you love books about London it is definitely one for you.
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25 of 26 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars I wandr'd the Dark Streets of London... 7 Aug 2007
This book was given to me not long after it was published nearly twenty years ago. This does not mean that I am a slow reader, merely that I am easily distracted by other pieces of fiction that come my way. It would be extremely harsh of me to say that my intuition to leave Peter Ackroyd's Hawksmoor was justified but literary stylistics over a plot that should have absorbed me left me feeling cheated at the novels conclusion.

For all the literary accolades that this book was afforded, in hindsight they seem misplaced. Yes, it is a credit to the skill of Peter Ackroyd that he can maintain a dual narrative in which the same actions are replayed over a two hundred year period (1700's/1980's) and he can use the vernacular, idioms and syntax of the two separate centuries over alternating chapters, but this does not make him a 'virtuoso writer'.

In the classic canon of gothic literature (Poe, Shelly, Hogg, Stevenson...) and modern (King, Herbert, Barker...) one consistent feature of terrorising your audience is the authors taut psychological control over the information which is administered gradually. What prevents Hawksmoor from being a great read as opposed to the `I-cannot-get-sleep-until-I finish-the-last-chapter' tension elicited by Stephen Kings' better horrors is the structural weakness of alternating actions between centuries. By the time we come round to the actions of Sir Nicolas Hawksmoor or Detective Hawksmoor, my interest has waned; that, in a gothic genre, is fatal.

The other cardinal rule of the gothic is that we are fascinated by the central character. Here, we do have character that is truly intriguing , morally repugnant and spiritually suspect in the form of Sir Nic. whose architecture is incredibly sinister (even in daylight.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
Like another reviewer, I bought this book back in 1985, struggled with it and never got to the half way point. I recently decided to give it another bash. Was it worth it?

On the plus side, Nick Dyer, the central character, is an interesting construct. The 1700s setting is very atmospheric although I found the 1980s version of London to be a little pastiche. The architectural aspects of the book are also intriguing and led me to new areas with my reading.

However, and it's a big however, the author has clearly forgotten that in any book a well constructed plot is key. I found this starts out well, but then dies a death (excuse the pun). I also found the dialogue takes a turn for the worse as the book goes on, with completely artifical and un-natural sounding conversations between characters. The policeman, Hawksmoor, in particular is simply not credible. This lack of a complete plot, which simply tails off into nothing at the conclusion, was a fatal flaw and left me thinking my time would have been better spent on a book by another author.

I may come back to Ackroyd, but I suspect it will be another 2o years or so.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars great atmosphere but boring 12 July 2008
I came to this book via Iain Sinclair who I came to via JG Ballard. The book was first as I expected: a creepy look at the Hawksmoor's churches with the satanic undertones suggested in Sinclair's Lud Heat. The atmosphere is superb, both in the 18th century parts and '50's parts. There's a clever parallel between Dyer and Hawksmoor suggesting the lingering of unresolved evil. However this book bored me a great deal. It takes ages to get going. It's a short book at just over 200 pages but should have been condensed to a short story. In the end I was glad to have finished it. It does, however, change the way you walk past London churches...
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Mysterious and stimulating... 4 Sep 2009
Memorable: moments of brilliance balanced with the more mediocre. The 'moments of brilliance' are, however, incredible. The plot could have been uninteresting and cliched--the schemes of a Restoration Satanist being linked to modern-day murders--but I found myself having to pause and grapple with multiple resonances and echos. Few of them are solved--if you like resolution and closure, stay away from this book. Questions are raised and aren't quite answered; you might see a relationship between masonry, novel-writing and time, but not emerge with a coherent theory. Dyer makes a very interesting Satanist (no 'mwahaha' moments, thank goodness), and the characterisation of Ned the tramp is haunting and fascinating. However, the title is a misnomer--Hawksmoor doesn't appear until 2/3 into the book, and he seems to lack the depth of Ned and Dyer (though possibly Dyer compensates in a more direct way...). I was strongly reminded of David Lynch... the book has the same lurching unreality--and the same tendency to provide no 'answers in the index'.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
3.0 out of 5 stars Three Stars
Another great read from Peter Ackroyd I enjoyed this book especially about Hawksmoor
Published 21 days ago by Val Young
3.0 out of 5 stars Wonderful atmosphere, faltering story
The opening chapters of this two-stranded novel are wonderful: tense, dark and atmospheric; heavily laden with interlocking images and the tension between Dyer's mysteries of the... Read more
Published 1 month ago by Helen Bennett
1.0 out of 5 stars I hated it!
Unfortunately, I need to give this book 1 star. Why did i hate it so much? Where to start.... It goes on and on and on. It doesn't get anywhere. It isn't clear what is going on. Read more
Published 5 months ago by Emma McDonald
3.0 out of 5 stars showing off
somewhat pretentious and the language was hard to access - the book wandered too much and the ending was usatisfactory
Published 7 months ago by andrew
4.0 out of 5 stars Bizarre!
This story is not at all what I expected but on its own terms it is a gloriously dark and involved piece of work. Read more
Published 15 months ago by Tartanreader
1.0 out of 5 stars Not for me
I'm sure some people will love this book but I did not like the subject matter, nor the language. It gives a tour of the darker side of old London if you are interested and can... Read more
Published 16 months ago by Pluto
5.0 out of 5 stars strong sense of place
The author claims that he didn't know anything about writing fiction. "I can't bear fiction. I hate it. It's so untidy. Read more
Published 21 months ago by Mr. D. P. Jay
4.0 out of 5 stars A literary, London detective novel
People merging into one over time & space is sort of an Ackroyd trademark (I give you House of Dr. Dee as another example). Read more
Published 22 months ago by F.R. Jameson
3.0 out of 5 stars Disappointing ending
I like Peter Ackroyd's books and I own quite a few, so I was eagerly looking forward to reading this one. Read more
Published 23 months ago by Jaz E
1.0 out of 5 stars Very poor
This is a weird book. Back in the early 18th century Nicholas Dyer is involved in the building of several new churches in London. Read more
Published 24 months ago by Andrew Norman
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