When a short poem and then a lost play are discovered, both purported to have been written by William Shakespeare, Georgian London is swept up in a flurry of excitement and anticipation.
Even the diffident Mary Lamb is intrigued by the unearthing, not the least because she's attracted to the ambitious young bookseller William Ireland, who is now in possession of the manuscripts.
Picture the poor Mary, holed up in her house in Holborn Passage: reduced to a spinsterish-like existence, sleepwalking though life with only her nagging, irksome mother and her partly senile father for company. She aches to connect with her brother Charles, and longs for him to come home sober each evening.
A budding writer and essayist, Charles seems more content to drink his life away at the local tavern, happy to pay little or no attention to his father's condition. Charles continues to earn his living, at his mother's
insistence, as a bored, jaded clerk at the East India House, but he wishes to consider himself primarily a journalist and novelist.
The young, red-haired William wants to court Charles, hoping that these newly revealed tokens of the Bard
will enamor him to the Lamb family. But are these Shakespearian manuscripts real or just zealous forgeries? The experts all agree that the play, at least, is real.
It doesn't matter to Samuel Ireland, William's father. While William sees the findings as his ticket to social respect, Samuel sees profit.
Convinced there will be more Shakespeare papers, he encourages his son to seek them out. Meanwhile, the delicate Mary unexpectedly unravels, her emotional state bursting without warning, her evident unease and fits of temper becoming more pronounced.
William - whose ambition is matched only by his self-distrust - finds himself caught up in a complex web of betrayal and deception beyond his control. He
is a man who has aspired to success but expected failure, and his eventual comeuppance is a fitting testament to his devilish plan to fool the London literati.
Author Peter Aykroyd displays a fine grasp of the particular world, its denizens of literature drenched in drama and passion, and the very possibility that these masterpieces are really that of the world's most famous playwright.
Blending fact with fiction, The Lambs of London is an irreverent romp, a somewhat bawdy journey through 1790s London, thrusting the reader into the stuffy world of antiquarian literature and the people who think so highly of it.
The true irony is that these manuscripts so easily captivate this community of authors, journalists, historians and booksellers,
and the whole issue turns into a reckless and chaotic amalgamation of reference, artifice and misinformation
With characters who abound with intellectual snobbery and are constantly battling their appetite for pleasing themselves and the world, The Lambs of London is an Anglophile's delight,
a must-read for those who truly love and admire the great plays of William Shakespeare.