PETER ACKROYD SEEMS to be everywhere you look at the moment. His TV series on London has only just left our screens; a short biography of Chaucer was published a few months ago; and it doesn't seem long since his previous novel, The Clerkenwell Tales, appeared last year - and those are just some of this prolific writer's recent darts. His latest novel has all the hallmarks of a typical piece of Achyd fiction: it is as concerned with London itself as it is with its inhabitants, and it reanimates historical personages. After Wilde, Hawksmoor and Chatterton, the turn of Charles Lamb has come, and there is also a cameo appearance by Thomas de Quincey.
Ackroyd combines the stories of the young Charles's literary ambitions and his sister Mary's frustration with her confinement in the family home with another true tale, that of William Ireland. When only a teenager, he presented two 'lost' Shakespeare plays to the world, Vortigem and Henry II, and got people