Sunday, April 15, 2012

REVIEW: Oscar Wilde and a Death of No Importance by Gyles Brandreth

Oscar Wilde and a Death of No Importance: A Mystery
by Gyles Brandreth

"Oscar's conversation was so brilliant he could make you forget the toothache. That night we sat in a dark corner of a London club with a dead man's head in a box before us and for forty minutes thought not a thing about it."

Oscar Wilde arrives at a (potentially illicit) appointment to discover his young friend Billy Wood dead with his throat slashed. With the help of his friend Robert Sherard (Watson to Oscar's Holmes), and his friend Arthur Conan Doyle, Oscar slips around London's drawing rooms and dark alleys to solve the mystery.

This book was a delightful read! The mystery itself was not that compelling, as it dragged on for months. It was predictable enough that I had it narrowed down to two suspects before the big reveal, but not so much that I knew for certain. 

The real fun of this book is Oscar himself. I loved this man before I read the book, but now, seen through the eyes of Brandreth (who was a biographer first), and through the fictional lens of his friend Sherard, I love him even more. He is at once the most commanding, jovial, and kind man you have ever met, and at the same time secretive, vulnerable and moody. He was very frustrating at times, deliberately withholding information from his friends, but you forgave him because he was such a generous and charismatic man. 

One element I found quite compelling were the comparisons between Oscar and Sherlock Holmes. In this book, Oscar is a great observer of human nature, like Holmes, and can tell everything about someone just by looking at him. Oscar also has a brilliant mind that is tainted by his one vice - in Sherlock's case, cocaine; in Oscar's case, young men. Conan Doyle also confesses (in this book) that he based the character of Mycroft Holmes (Sherlock's smarter older brother) off of Oscar, as the man who languidly sits in his club all day, until something sparks his interest, and then he can move a lot faster than you ever thought. (I LOVE that Stephen Fry has now played both Mycroft and Wilde).

I was planning on finding the book chock full of references to Wilde's works, but I could not find that many. He often quoted himself, and I'm sure he did it more often than I caught, but it seemed like he quoted Shakespeare the most. One moment that broke my heart was when he sadly muttered to himself Andrew Aguecheek's lament from Twelfth Night "I was adored once too..." 

All in all, a fun read. It would be even more fun if the whole sodomy trial wasn't looming over everything. As wonderful as Oscar's life is at this point, our foreknowledge of his fate makes everything he does part of his great tragedy. 

Books like this:
The Sherlockian by Graham Moore
All Men of Genius by Lev AC Rosen