London, 1889. Oscar Wilde, celebrated poet, wit, playwright and raconteur, is the literary sensation of his age. All Europe lies at his feet. Yet when he chances upon the naked corpse of sixteen-year-old Billy Wood, posed by candlelight in a dark and stifling upstairs room, he cannot ignore the brutal murder. With the help of fellow author Arthur Conan Doyle, he sets out to solve the crime - and it is Wilde's peculiar genius and his unparalleled access to all degrees of late-Victorian life - from society drawing rooms and the bohemian demi-monde to the criminal underclass - that prove the decisive factors in their investigation of what turns out to be the first in a series of bizarre and apparently inexplicable killings.
Oscar Wilde and the Candlelight Murders is a gripping detective story that explores the secret world of Oscar Wilde - his surprising friendships, his complex marriage, and his unusual association with Inspector Aidan Fraser of Scotland Yard.
Set against the exotic backdrop of fin-de-siècle London and Paris, Gyles Brandreth evokes Oscar Wilde's trademark wit and brilliance with huge flair, intertwining all the intrigue of the classic English murder mystery with a compelling portrait of one of the greatest characters of the Victorian age.
Oscar Wilde seems an unlikely choice as the hero of a murder mystery; Arthur Conan-Doyle and the great-grandson of William Wordsworth, Robert Sherard, make for unlikely crime-solving sidekicks in this ripping adventure.
Brandreth lovingly re-creates the atmosphere of the Victorian age: Hansome cabs, gentlemen's clubs, secret societies and street urchins are all there - somewhat reminiscent of Mayhew's Underground.
Liberally laden with some of Wilde's famous quotations, Brandreth cunningly weaves many of them into the dialogue of the book. It would seem trying to insert a famous quotation would look forced and clumsy in the dialogue; however, all are placed naturally, with the flow of normal speech.
I get a sense that Brandreth is trying to explain Wilde and to some extent rehabilitate his tarnished reputation; hence the many references to Wilde's wife and children and the regular emphasis on Wilde's love of beautiful things - including people.
That aside, this is an astounding first outing for Oscar Wilde, Sherard and Conan-Doyle as the super-sleuths of the Victorian age.
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