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Fascinating historical read
on 4 March 2005
The year is 1399. London is rife with rumours of the overthrow of an increasingly unpopular Richard II by Henry Bolingbroke. In the style of Chaucer's Canterbury Tales, Peter Ackroyd chronicles the intersecting lives of a wide array of the city's inhabitants caught in this world of dangerous political and religious intrigue.
Ackroyd has created a fast-paced, historically-detailed journey down the lanes and alleys of medieval London that is a joy to read. Equally fun - and sometimes a challenge - is negotiating the vocabulary of Medieval English, Anglo-French and variants of Latin! It is also great fun meeting such a wide-ranging cast of London folk.
Despite being an immensely enjoyable historical read, The Clerkenwell Tales has shortcomings as a novel. Although described as a 'murder-mystery' there doesn't appear to be much in the way of coherent plot/storyline: indeed, there are three (or more) murders but no sustained mystery or organized investigation into their perpetration. Moreover, due to the large number of characters and short length of this novel, none of the characters is developed in sufficient depth to engage the reader's emotional involvement in their fortunes.