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There was a good book in here somewhere
on 8 June 2012
My hat is off Peter Ackroyd as an historian and a theorist of London. This book is worth reading, but it is flawed and uneven. It is in a way a sort of fictional reworking of the Jack the Ripper case, with other things that interest Ackroyd - the Music Hall, contemporary ideas and stars and intellectuals: Marx, Gissing, Wilde and even Charlie Chaplin's parents have walk-on parts - thrown in to the mix. I don't know whether it is supposed to scare you, but it completely failed on that count and as a thriller. It is at least 50 pages too long. Ackroyd fails to conjure the gas-lit, foggy world of Victorian London that so stirs his imagination. He needed a more Conrad-ian touch, to make the reader *see*.
The thriller element is guessable virtually from the start.
However, there are splendid moments. The best writing is in the music hall sections, when the book comes to brilliant life painting the behind-the-scenes lives of the music hall artistes. They are like scenes from a different, and far better, novel.
But Ackroyd the historian keeps getting in the way of Ackroyd the novelist - and Ackroyd the novelist is not beyond the vices of the bad creative writer: indulgence, totally improbable characters, pretentious elements and silly bodged-up coincidences to make the plot work.
However, the better parts of the book linger in the imagination, and anyone with an interest in London history will have their curiosity about the great city stimulated by Dan Leno and the Limehouse Golem.