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Literature Reference: American Literature, English Literature, Classics & Modern FictionEncyclopedia of Literature: William Hart-Smith Biography to Sir John [Frederick William] Herschel Biography

a novel by Peter Ackroyd, published in 1985. The double narrative of this combination of suspense, horror, and social history unfolds in the early eighteenth century and in the present day. The chapters set in the skilfully evoked London of the past are narrated by an architect named Nicholas Dyer, whose mastery of his craft is accompanied by a fervent belief in the esoteric and the supernatural. His plan to build seven churches in the City of London is underwritten by arcane symbolism and the ritual murder of vagabonds, children, and, eventually, his adversaries. In the chapters set in the present, a similar series of ritualistic murders of children and tramps, on the sites of the churches built by Dyer, links the alternating narratives. The murders are brought to the attention of Nicholas Hawksmoor, a senior detective in the CID. This surly, reclusive man eventually traces a pattern connecting the murders to the past and to Nicholas Dyer; the scepticism of his colleagues parallels the dismissal of Dyer's esoteric speculations by his peers and fellow architects, including Sir Christopher Wren. Hawksmoor is taken off the unsolved case, just as Dyer, in the past, was superseded by his contemporaries. Hawksmoor's unsuccessful attempts to unravel the mystery of the ritual murders, with their strong implication of the unseen and supernatural, eventually lead him to a state of hallucinatory obsession and despair. His name refers to the real architect responsible for six of the churches in the novel, and upon whose career Dyer's is partly based.

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