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Publisher's Summary

Peter Ackroyd's Hawksmoor was first published in 1985. Alternating between the eighteenth century, when Nicholas Dyer, assistant to Christopher Wren, builds seven London churches that house a terrible secret, and the 1980s, when London detective Nicholas Hawksmoor is investigating a series of gruesome murders on the sight of certain old churches, Hawksmoor is a brilliant tale of darkness and shadow.

©2002 Peter Ackroyd; 2014 Audible, Inc.

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  • Russ
  • Berryville, VA, United States
  • 08-17-17

unusual structure and style

Hawksmoor combines a number of styles and time shifts to paint an unusual tale of the edge of sanity and the darkness that can be found or generated when one leans too far over to stare into the abyss. The detail of the narrative is intense and can transport anyone at all familiar with London to its very soul. That being said, the story feels almost like an avant garde experiment in prose that some may find difficult to follow in spots and the historical alterations may be hard to understand. Everything knits together in the end but the reader must be prepared to elaborate the reality, or lack thereof, for themselves

11 of 11 people found this review helpful

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Intellectual yet gimmicky literary novel

Hawksmoor appeared on my Audible search results for a mystery. I was intrigued by a NY Times review which said that "this was a novel primarily of ideas", specifically a contrast between the superstitious and mystical beliefs of an earlier time and those coming of age in the 18th century dealing with the "new science of rationalism and experimental method" which "will eventually eradicate superstition". I did not really find much evidence of this debate in the novel. Instead, it seems preoccupied with the debased nature of mankind. Much of the text takes place inside the minds of the two main characters, Nicholas Dyer, a fictional version of the eponymous real life architect, Nicholas Hawksmore and the modern detective, recursively named Nicholas Hawksmore, who is investigating a series of child murders in London. The action takes place in the area of seven churches built by the real architect Hawksmore whose devotion to Christianity is called into question by the numerous pagan symbols he used to decorate his churches. This much is actually true and does add a note of interest to the text.

The internal musings of these two characters borders on the paranoid and the delusional. I am not especially drawn to this type of study of the human psyche, with characters speaking internally in an overheated emotional and irrational way, all the while afraid that their irrationality and indeed criminal nature is about to be discovered.

I found much of the work repetitious, especially so because the author chose the rather gimmicky device of repeating many of the thoughts and actions of the characters whose lives are separated by some 300 years to create a supernatural aura over his tale. And yet without the atmosphere created by this echo down the centuries, the book would lose much of its interest entirely. One saving grace was to be able to play the reading at 1.5x or even 2.0x time; if I were reading the book, I would have had to skim large sections too.

This is not to say that there are not entertaining moments, but they are few and far between. Even the brilliant acting of Derek Jacobi could not redeem this work for me.

12 of 13 people found this review helpful

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Great subject matter - just doesn't deliver.

Would you try another book from Peter Ackroyd and/or Derek Jacobi?

Peter Ackroyd - perhaps and perhaps not.
Derek Jacobi - Definitely

What could Peter Ackroyd have done to make this a more enjoyable book for you?

I really didn't like this book.

The plot was fascinating and the premise was even better.

Peter Ackroyd wrote the novel well.

The characters were simply unlikable. I loved the architectural details and the ascent of the 18th century protagonist but he was so unabashedly evil! I found it rather hard to identify with him. His modern counterpart was also rather unlikeable as he was just so depressed at his own mediocrity.

I wished the novel could have gone in a different direction. Perhaps this is a book that would do well in a book group or read by a few people at the same time. I would have liked to discuss much of this book as I was reading it.

What about Derek Jacobi’s performance did you like?

Derek's voice is perfect. He is one of my all time favorite actors. I have much respect for him.

You didn’t love this book... but did it have any redeeming qualities?

The book was well written. The plot path was woven quite intricately and in an interesting way. I found it quite easy to discern the two paths of the story, present and past. Derek Jacobi's performance aided this distinction quite a bit.

Any additional comments?

I loved everything about this book except the characters. Perhaps I need to read / listen to this novel again.

12 of 15 people found this review helpful

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A bit convoluted

I LOVE Peter Akroyd's work. The book description made the story just my cup of tea. However, once I got into it, the shifting of timeframes, which I usually enjoy, just became unusually muddy. That said, I bet some film maker could make this a very intriguing move.

3 of 5 people found this review helpful

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  • Enquiring Mind
  • 03-30-12

Strangely compelling

One of the strangest and yet most compelling books I've listened to. About 45 minutes into this, I thought I would have to abandon it because the story seemed to be going nowhere. It was only the love of Sir Derek Jacobi's voice which kept me listening. And then I "got it". Well, sort of got it!. If you are expecting a conventional murder mystery, this is not it. The beauty of the book lays in the manipulation of words and images far more than it does the plot. I do not think I could read the print version of this, for me it only works because of Jacobi, I truly think he is the only actor who could narrate this. The speed, clarity and dexterity of his delivery is awesome. I shall listen to this one again, not for the story but for the comforting feeling of listening to well-written English prose read by one of the best actors ever.

6 of 7 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • Caroline
  • 04-10-11

Convoluted and confusing

Whilst considered to be an excellent book, it doesn't make the translation across to audio very well. The story covers an set of events played out around the London churches of an architect, with recurring themes of murder, time and death. The complexity comes from the story following several characters in two different time periods who echo each other's actions. This makes for a highly involved story and the audio media does not encourage ease of understanding. Derek Jacobi's narration, whist energetic and rounded sometimes does not help to increase the clarity. Probably one to read in print if possible.

5 of 6 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • Miss T.C Holleran
  • 08-31-17

A sensory masterpiece.!

All the sights , sounds and smells of 18th Century London, in this dream like , semi fictional, supernatural tale, read mesmerizingly by Derek Jacobi.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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  • jane
  • 08-26-14

Didn't work for me as an audio book

If this book wasn’t for you, who do you think might enjoy it more?

I really tried to get into this book but I just couldn't 'get it'. It probably works better as a traditional book. This could have helped me follow the different threads and find a meaning to the plot. The narration (although I love Derek Jacobi's voice) didn't help; distinguishing between characters and centuries was difficult and trying to keep track of which century we were in just interrupted my mental 'flow.

Would you ever listen to anything by Peter Ackroyd again?

Sceptical of buying another audio book by him

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • Daniel Suss
  • 04-24-11

Disconnected, unengaging, directionless

I love his historical stuff, so gave the fiction a go. Didn't work for me at all. Unpleasant characters who didn't seem to have any particularly comprehensible motives. Difficult to follow the narrative shifts on audio too.

3 of 5 people found this review helpful

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  • beverley foster
  • 01-07-18

Interesting and beautifully written

Not a traditional murder mystery. The murders are just links that hold the two main characters together. I liked Derek Jacobi narration ( who wouldn't ) and found it very easy to distinguish the two main characters ( or should I say one character two time zones ) it's a book that makes you think and in that sense is a difficult book to fully understand. It has inspired me to visit the churches and walk the areas so vividly described. A beautifully written book which is always lovely listen to coupled with a fantastic orator.

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  • M. Abbott
  • 04-13-14

awful it only has one star because I had to

What would have made Hawksmoor better?

nothing could make this blather better

What was most disappointing about Peter Ackroyd’s story?

boring to screaming point

What didn’t you like about Derek Jacobi’s performance?

Derek Jacobi performance was as usual great

What reaction did this book spark in you? Anger, sadness, disappointment?

Anger that I actually paid for this

Any additional comments?

Just don't buy it if you want to be interested and amuse by a book and not bored out of your brain

2 of 6 people found this review helpful

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  • Elizabeth
  • 02-19-17

interesting concept

Dark and mysterious, like nothing i've read before. The language captures an essense of London. However, the characters are so superficial, i felt apathetic for most of the book.
Although a certain apathy fits well with the theme i prefer and will remember a book longer when i am more involved.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful