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Dan Leno & The Limehouse Golem [Englisch] [Taschenbuch]

Peter Ackroyd

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20. September 1997

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 such 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?

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"Mesmerising, macarbre and totally brilliant" (Daily Mail)

"He has pulled off the greatest coup of all, a four-square crime aesthetically satisfying as it is morally shocking" (Independent on Sunday)

"Knowledge fuels psychosis, but in Ackroyd's hands it also fuels a flawlessly good read" (Observer)

"This brilliant novel pervades the midnight movies of the mind and makes the blood run chilly" (Daily Mail)


'Mesmerising, macabre and totally brilliant' Daily Mail

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Die hilfreichsten Kundenrezensionen auf (beta) 4.2 von 5 Sternen  8 Rezensionen
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5.0 von 5 Sternen A masterpiece 26. Juli 2010
Von Philip Spires - Veröffentlicht auf
Dan Leno And The Limehouse Golem is quite simply a masterpiece. Every aspect of the novel is remarkable. It's a whodunit, though it suggests a couple of credible suspects right at the start. It even convicts its central character to death by hanging before we have even got to know her. Clearly things are not going to be obvious. The novel is also a study in character, especially that of its central actor, Lambeth Marsh Lizzie, later Mrs Elizabeth Cree. It's also an evocation of London in the late nineteenth century, complete with colours, smells, vistas and perspectives. It's a highly literary work, ever conscious of its place beside the genres it skirts. Overall, it's a wonderful example of how form can be used as inventively as plot to create a story.

The novel has a series of interlocking stands. In one our anti-heroine, Lizzie, is accused of the murder of John Cree, her husband. In another, John Cree's diary reveals certain secrets that not only he would have wanted to hide. In a third strand, we learn of Lambeth Marsh Lizzie's past, how she came to a life in the theatre and how she met her husband. A fourth strand follows the career of Dan Leno, a music hall player, worshipper of the silent clown Grimaldi and mentor of Lizzie's stage life. And in a fifth strand we see how, in a great city like London, our paths inevitably cross those of great thinkers, writers, artists and, of course, history itself. Peter Ackroyd thus has his characters cross the paths of a writer, George Gissing, and a thinker of note, one Karl Marx, as they tramp the streets of Limehouse after a day at the library.

As usual, sex has a lot to do with the relationships in the book. It is usually on top, but here it also comes underneath and sometimes on the side of events. Mrs Cree is accused of poisoning her husband. Their married life has been far from conventional, but are its inadequacies the motive for a series of brutal killings of prostitutes and others in the Limehouse area? As a result of the curious placement of certain trophies, the killings are attributed in the popular mind to a golem, a mythical creature made of clay that can change it shape at will. Karl Marx examines the Jewish myths surrounding the subject. Others steer clear of the subject.

Lizzie continues on the stage until she meets her husband. She learns much stagecraft from Dan Leno and eventually resolves to help her husband to complete the play over which he has unsuccessfully laboured. When the book's plot resolves, we are surprised, but then everything makes such perfect sense. And in a real piece of insight, Peter Ackroyd likens the mass murderer to Romaticism perfected, the ultimate triumph of individualism. There is much to stimulate the mind in this thriller.

A reader of this review might suspect that Dan leno And The Limehouse Golem is a difficult read, a book whose diverse strands never converge. But quite the contrary is true: it comes together in a wonderful, fast-flowing manner to a resolution that is both highly theatrical yet thoroughly credible. Read it many times.
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4.0 von 5 Sternen Murder and psychological shell-games in Victorian London 7. Juni 1997
Von Ein Kunde - Veröffentlicht auf
Dan Leno was variety hall entertainer in the second half of the nineteenth century. The Limehouse Golem is a serial killer along the lines of Jack the Ripper. Around these two poles Ackroyd has spun a story of an abused girl who is taken under Leno's wing and after a successful career on the stage, marries and then murders her journalist admirer. The story is a meditation on the links between murder and entertaining the popular imagination, on revenge and pride.
The book takes a little while to get a grip on, consisting as it does of several different narratives, but halfway through it shifts down a gear and really takes off.
5.0 von 5 Sternen Beware what you create 7. April 2013
Von Mr. D. P. Jay - Veröffentlicht auf
Many in our group enjoyed the author's `Hawksmoor'. This novel was written nine years later and follows many of the same themes and fascinations, one might almost say obsessions.

This is a kaleidoscope of fragments which builds up the story by extracts from a (made up) diary, a trial transcript and the main character's early history. It begins at both ends and works towards the solution in the middle. There are surprises at the end of chapters, little hints all along so you wonder why a suspected a murderer reads Tennyson to his wife, but it is not until you get to the end that they sink in so it maybe worth reading the book a second time to appreciate its clever crafting. No linear narrative here then, just like Ackroyd's other London books.

These fragments come from all over the place and the author makes sense of them, just as we try to make sense out of the many events which make up out lives. One important fragment, woven into the story, is the main character, Lambeth Marsh Lizzie (Elizabeth Cree after her marriage) who is reminiscent of the title of W. Somerset Maugham's novel, Liza of Lambeth. Maybe Ackroyd based his character on her because there are parallels: both are young women who have gone astray; both are the only child of a religious, hypocritical mother who mistreats them; both oppose their mother's will; and both have lived all their childhood in poverty in Lambeth approximately in the same period. Both novels, deal with popular theatre influencing the lives and behaviour of the urban masses. Leno says, "We never do dirty - but double-entendres."

Typically post-modern, the novel muses on the self. Who am I? Are we a consistent, integrated person or am I a series of different selves, reacting to the different people I meet, as it were a selection of stage personas. Poststructuralists tend to see the 'self' not as a fixed unity but more like a flux or a process which adapts to different situations and discourses it encounters. Elizabeth Cree does six acts a night, moving from theatre to theatre. She can be a girl, boy, man or woman. And Dan Leno "played so many parts that he hardly had time to be himself. And yet, somehow, he was always himself. He was the Indian squaw, the waiter, the milkmaid, or the train driver, but it was always Dan conjuring people out of thin air. .....suddenly he was the sour-faced spinster on the look-out for a man." This Dan Leno is the master of masks and poses, "He is endless" (But the real Dan Leno had a mental breakdown - his character(s) disintegrated.)

Where do we and the people in the book get our `characters' from? Dan Leno wished to "understand the conditions which had, in a sense, created him" He reads The Memoirs of Joseph Grimaldi as well as Thomas De Quincey's essay on the famous clown, identified with him and saw parallels between Grimaldi's and his own life. He, as it were, becomes him: when he lays sick and dying he repeats, word for word, Grimaldi's farewell speech, "while those around his deathbed believed he was delirious." So Ackroyd emphasizes that we are products of our culture, and no more than that. Our thoughts, dreams, and behaviour reflect our cultural and textual experience. We are what we read; everything we do or say has its complex origins in textual or cultural sources. "Sometimes I believe that I am made of ink and paper", says Karl Marx.

Ackroyd's interest in literary criticism is reflected here. Most of the characters are involved with texts, either reading, writing or stage acting. His characters read De Quincey's essays. Karl Marx takes down from the shelf Dialogues of Three Templars on Political Economy by Thomas De Quincey, Dan Leno reads De Quincey's essay on pantomime, 'Laugh, Scream and Speech'. George Gissing writes his first public essay, 'Romanticism and Crime', and extols Thomas De Quincey's impassionate prose. Most obviously, Thomas De Quincey's essay "On Murder Considered as One of the Fine Arts", an essay which evokes a sinister London, "a city of footsteps and flaring lights, of houses packed close together, of lacrymose alleys and false doors." is surely where the author borrowed the crime plot, the ominous atmosphere of approaching doom; narrating from the murderer's point of view, the access to the killer's disturbed mind, the parallels between murder and acting, and the theatrical imagery which depicts the murderer very much like an artist in crime. Ackroyd even goes so far as to use the same setting (two houses on the Ratcliffe Highway, East London) and the same method of murder (the use of a mallet and a razor to crush the victims' skulls and cut their throats).

The story, like the masks we wear in life, are all borrowed. John Cree plans to write a novel about urban poverty and "the crime and disease which it engendered" He does not go to the streets to collect his material but, instead, his first place of study is the Reading Room of the British Museum. "He had reserved a copy of Plumstead's History of the London Poor and Molton's A Few Sighs From Hell. Both books were concerned with the life of the indigent and the vagrant in the capital, and for that reason they were of especial interest to him." So too, Ackroyd imitates the work of others: Dickens, Gaskell or George Gissing.

Where is integration to be found? The Reading Room of the British Museum becomes a place of almost mystical quality in this novel, the meeting point between various texts and discourses; this is where the roots of all the events in the book derive from; this is a giant library which can "be said to have affected the course of human history". For George Gissing, who shares the author's sense of place and identification of a spiritual home. Gissing lived 'in the valley of the shadow of books'.

However, close to the centre of spirituality comes the occult, another of Ackroyd's interests. Black and white go hand in hand. Occult shops are to be found near the British Museum. And Gissing wonders about the invention of the calculating machine that may be draining away life, with souls trapped within it, maybe prefiguring computers and the alternative `reality' of the online persona in social networking sites as an evasion of `real life'?

For a gay author, there are only two gay characters, the detective and his engineer boyfriend.

There are some strange terms used to describe people, probably commonly use at that time: Romanist, Hebrew.

Elizabeth's childhood was spent in a house where the wallpaper was pages from the bible. Her Bible references are accurate, like Dot Cotton in East Enders. Her death bed confession shows her feistiness: "And I will fry eternally? I am surprised at you, father, for such childish notions. I cannot think of hell as some fish-shop. ....A sole may be fried, too.", but also her mixing up of reality with pretence. She regarded the Mass as `such fun', rather like the music hall where she had spent most of her working life.

So everything about us is created. But we should beware what we create. It could be a Frankenstein or a golem.
4.0 von 5 Sternen Lots of merit 19. Januar 2012
Von Paul Rooney - Veröffentlicht auf
Elizabeth Cree is hanged at the beginning of this book for the murder of her husband, but was she guilty?

We are then taken into the Victorian world of theatre and gross murder.

Ackroyd writes about London superbly and he has managed to combine this with a good crime novel, some wonderfully horrible writing here.
5.0 von 5 Sternen A good read 25. Oktober 2011
Von .fgd - Veröffentlicht auf
I loved the realism and interest woven into this novel about an Old London.There is an excellent history of London written by Dan Ackroyd that is excellent and I wonder if he'd read it because he has a great grip on the atmosphere/social history sense of London.As well as bringing to life the backstage life in theatre or the clown.
A somewhat farfetched ending where the story goes off track but it doesn't matter as it works almost up to right at the end in any case. By a stretch i was able to counter that Lizzie Cree had pulled off the last illussion/lie in a hidden irony duping the reader as well as the author. This yet another layer to an intriging book.
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