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.) However, human sacrifices aside, he does not have the power to really chill you. Detective Hawksmoor (the other central protagonist) is simply two-dimensional.
Hawksmoor on the whole is a missed opportunity because the central metaphysical premise to the novel is very powerful and could have evoked more potently the deep-rooted human anxieties of predestination. Hawksmoor, like present day London, can , in turns thrill with the dark history of its past whilst you meander in the pedestrian banality of its present.