Oscar Wilde once said, "There is nothing quite like an
unexpected death for lifting the spirits." And there is nothing quite like a
good mystery when the amateur sleuth is Oscar Wilde himself. If you are a fan of
Doyle's Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson, you will certainly devour this new
series written in the same fashion, with Richard Sherard (Wilde's real-life
friend and biographer) playing the Watson role.
When Billy Wood, a young artist's male model, is found murdered, it appears to be "a death of no importance", but because of Oscar's sharp deductive and reasoning skills, it becomes quite important to a number of prominent British citizens. As readers romp through Victorian England in this witty and intelligent mystery they will enjoy many twists of plot and a wide range of characters from the most celebrated to society's outcasts, from the Prince of Wales to common prostitutes.
In the fictional Wilde, the author has captured what he believes to be the real man's greatest qualities: a brilliant conversationalist, a careful listener and an acute observer. Wilde's ability to reflect on these observations is what makes him a detective in the tradition of Sherlock Holmes. As author Anne Perry (At Some Disputed Barricade and Dark Assassin) says, "I always wanted to meet Oscar Wilde and now I feel I have shared a terrific bizarre and frightening adventure with him".
Branreth explains that by telling the stories through the eyes of Sherard, who worships Wilde as Watson is in awe of Holmes. "Sherard reports the action as it happens and can give an account of Oscar's genius in a way that Oscar himself would never have considered doing."
Oscar Wilde and a Death of No Importance can be appreciated at many levels. Not only is it a great who-dun-it, but it is also a literary tribute to poets and playwrights of the time. The London Sunday Times describes it as "rattlingly elegant dialogue peppered with witticisms uttered by Wilde well before he ever thought of putting them into his plays."
Much more than a mystery, Oscar Wilde and a Death of No Importance would make a great choice for book club discussion and, conveniently, comes with a built in reading group guide. The book also contains biographical notes, a discussion with the author and "Creative Tips for Enhancing Book Clubs".
Mystery fans of deductive reasoning will appreciate this first book in the series, especially knowing that there will be eight more opportunities to enjoy Oscar Wilde as amateur sleuth.
Gyles Brandreth is a prominent BBC broadcaster, theater producer, novelist
and biographer. He has written best-selling biographies of Britain's royal
family (Phillip & Elizabeth: Portrait of a Marriage, Charles & Camilla:
Portrait of a Love Affair and an acclaimed diary of his years as a Member of
Parliament. (Breaking the Code Westminster Diaries).
At age thirteen (1961) he was given the Complete Works of Oscar Wilde and read all 1,118 pages. The first non-fiction book he ever read was the full account of the trials of Oscar Wilde. Also as a young boy in England, Brandreth was an avid fan of the adventures of Sherlock Holmes by Arthur Conan Doyle. When he was ten, the family moved to Baker Street and from his kitchen window he could see what he believed to be the famed 221B. He read every one of the Sherlock Homes stories. At age thirteen he wrote a school play, A Study in Sherlock.
Fast forward to the late 1990's. Brandreth, by chance, picks up a 1924 copy of Memories, the Autobiography of Arthur Conan Doyle, and discovers that Doyle and Wilde were friends. He thought it hard to imagine an odder couple. They were brought together in 1889 by an American publisher, J.M.Stoddard who went on to publish Doyle's second Sherlock Holmes, The Sign of the Four, and Oscar Wilde's , The Picture of Dorian Gray. "And I", says Brandreth, "was inspired to write the Oscar Wilde Murder Mysteries."
Detective fiction has always been Brandreth's favoritethe novels of Agatha Christie and the Lord Peter Whimsey stories by Dorothy L. Sayers. His current favorite is P.D. James. More at BookBrowse.
This review is from the January 10, 2008 issue of BookBrowse Recommends. Click here to go to this issue.
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