I’ve just finished the book Dan Leno and the Limehouse Golem, by Peter Ackroyd, and it turned out to be very good. Initially got it because I’m working on a story set in Limehouse, and thought this would give me some background. It turned out to be much more entertaining than I expected.
It’s a murder mystery set in London in the 1880s, featuring a set of Ripper-like killings by someone the press dubs the Limehouse Golem. The books helpfully provides us with the killer’s diary, detailing both the details of the killings and their reasons and justifications. The killer even goes so far as to recreate the Radcliffe Highway murders of seventy years before, butchering the family of a shopkeer in the same house where the Marr family was killed. (The Marr killings are a historical fact, but those of the Golem are strictly fictional.)
But there’s so much more here beside the killings! There’s the journey of “Lambeth Marsh Lizzie”, a poor girl who enters the world of the musical hall and becomes a star upon its stage. Through her eyes we get a view of music hall, the odd characters associated with it, and the kindest of them all, the funniest man in the world, Dan Leno.
Then there are scholars such as Marx and Gissing, who rub shoulders with each other in the reading room at the British Museum, along with fictional characters such as John Cree, Elizabeth’s future husband.
The end result is a sort of tapestry that explores London of the times. It was still a city of darkness, with much of the populate living in poverty and desperation, but also a city of great inspiration, as well as a city on the cusp of the modern world. Gissing is, in fact, writing an article about Babbage’s calculating machines, which Babbage intended to bring order and prosperity.
All in all just a great read – erudite and witty, but equally accessible and entertaining. And I got a few bits I can use in my story!