In recent years serial killer novels and films have become something of a cliche. It's a genre which has been done to death with only a few works standing above the herd. So Hawksmoor was a very refreshing change. A novel set in London, with two threads, one in the 1800's and one in contemporary times. The novel opens in the period following the Great Fire of London, with one Nicholas Dyer, an assistant surveyor in scotland yard who eventually becomes an apprentice to Christopher Wren. He is commissioned to rebuilt the lost churches of London. In the present we are introduced to a series of characters, including a young boy and a vagrant, whose stories are painted with a lavish brush, before we meet the eponymous hero of the novel.
Hawksmoor is the detective investigating a series of serial killings, located in the vicinity of a number of churches across London. It is here that the various sub plots are brought together, the story centring on Hawksmoor attempts at unravelling the mystery.
All the while the story of Dyer's architectural plans and the rebuilding of London unravel simultaneously. His true character is gradually exposed, revealing unexpected connections between the two disparate storylines.
The conclusion of the novel is both unexpected and uncomfortable, a brilliant conclusion to a work with a great psychological presence. Ackroyd brings the personalities of his characters to the fore, places them in a lushly drawn backdrop, and shows the story through their eyes.
One of the most impressive things about the novel is the way Ackroyd treats the serial killer storyline, keeping it very much in the background, shown only through the eyes of the characters and the ensuing investigation. It never dominates the proceedings, and Ackroyd instead concentrates his energy on exploring the eighteenth century events that hold a key to the present day. It is both chilling and filled with an aura of corruption, a reinvention of history and a fresh look at the present through the eyes of history.
It has been a while since I have read a novel this satisfying, an enthralling story on all levels with an ending that stays with you long after you've finished it.