The action of Ackroyd's next novel, Dan Leno and the Limehouse Golem (1994), shares significant traits with The House of Doctor Dee: it is situated in London's East End, the name of one of the main characters, John Cree, is phonetically close to John Dee, and it is about a ‘golem’, the Jewish equivalent of Doctor Dee's homunculus. Described by Peter Keating as ‘a modern pastiche of the Victorian Shilling Shocker’, it develops, like Hawksmoor, around a series of ritual murders.
The novel is presented as the report of an anonymous twentieth-century narrator–historian who has been gathering material about two sets of murders committed in Limehouse in 1880: one is a ‘private’ and ‘domestic’ case – that is, typically Victorian, according to Gissing (DLLG 36): Elizabeth Cree's poisoning of her husband, an ex-newspaper reporter with a passion for the music hall and fascinated ‘by poverty, and by the crime and disease which it engendered’ (DLLG 44). The other, the ‘shocking’ and ‘public’ massacres of several representatives of the ‘margins’ of Victorian society: two prostitutes, a Jewish scholar, and a family of second-hand clothiers, attributed by the press to an invisible ‘Limehouse Golem’.
The narrator, in, apparently, a desire for historical accuracy, reproduces extracts from the trial of Elizabeth Cree; and also extracts taken from the diary of Mr John Cree in which he attributes the Golem murders to himself. Interspersed with these ‘historical ’ records are also some chapters in which Elizabeth Cree retrospectively narrates her life story. In this account, she confesses a whole new set of undetected murders that run parallel to the stages of her own transformation from poor and illegitimate child to music-hall comedian, respectable married woman, bad playwright, and Limehouse Golem.
In the chapters narrated by the twentieth-century external narrator, the account of the events includes the reactions and commentaries on the murders of a series of historical characters who live in the area, such as Karl Marx and George Gissing, who, like Dan Leno, Oscar Wilde and Bernard Shaw, often sit next to each other in the Reading Room of the British Museum.