I have an odd relationship with Peter Ackroyd’s books. I have read a few of his novels and like his use of history, he clearly has knowledge about and passion for the periods he chooses. I generally enjoy his style of writing (though parts of Hawksmoor were trying). Unfortunately I find the books a bit light on anything actually happening, any particularly compelling characters or occasionally any point. That sounds harsh, he’s not far off but it generally just doesn’t click for me.
However, that intimate knowledge of history – particularly in England and particularly in London – makes him a very good writer for popular history. He builds scenes and atmospheres well. He brings the world to life. He throws in odd little facts and stories that add colour and depth to the narrative. He is currently in the middle of writing a history of England, with the first book Foundation taking things up to Henry VII and the third covering the Civil War.