About the Book
Dan Leno, the great music hall comedian, was known in his lifetime as ‘the funniest man on earth’. So how could he have been involved in one of the most curious episodes in London’s history when, in a short period during the autumn of 1880, a series of murders was attributed to the mysterious ‘Limehouse Golem’?
In Peter Ackroyd’s novel the world of late-Victorian music hall and pantomime becomes implicated in a number of sinister scenes and episodes, and the connection between the light and dark sides of nineteenth-century London begins to attract contemporary figures as George Gissing and Karl Marx. But there are also less well-known characters who play a significant role in the narrative. What, for example, is the secret of Elizabeth Cree, about to hang for the murder of her husband?
I first started to read this book about twenty years ago when it was originally published as Dan Leno and The Limehouse Golem. Then I didn’t really care for it, but over the years the books I choose to read are a lot darker and when the publisher asked if I would like to review I decided to try again. I am happy to say, that this time round I liked the novel much more. So much so that after finishing it yesterday morning, I then went to the cinema to watch the film adaptation. And now I want to reread the book. It’s safe to say I’m a fan!
It is incredibly dark. London isn’t romanticised in anyway. You see the poverty, the prostitution, the death and disease. I could taste the fog, the description of ‘miner’s phlegm’ was a strong indication of how damaging it must have been to health. We’ve probably all seen photographs of Victorian London shrouded in mist but I’ve never thought what it must be like to live in.
There are plenty of violent scenes combined with the scenes from the theatre, both of which are present throughout the entire novel. You see the story from a few points of view which gets a little confusing and it was only in the last quarter that I started to see what was happening.
It’s not a book that has many likeable characters, some are factual some fictional and the only moralistic person was Karl Marx who was saddened by a friend’s death. Everybody else was unfeeling and self-obsessed.
After rereading this novel for the second time I will be interested in reading more by Peter Ackroyd.
With thanks to the publisher for the copy received.