When the police drag their heels investigating the murder of a beautiful boy of the streets, his friend Oscar Wilde is compelled to solve the crime.
Wilde confidant and biographer Robert Sherard, who tells the tale, begins with the historic meeting of Wilde and Arthur Conan Doyle, a rising literary star who’s just published A Study in Scarlet. Wilde dazzles the duo with the harrowing tale of his discovery of the corpse of teenage beauty Billy Wood in a remote flat on the previous afternoon. When all three rush to the scene, they find no body but traces of blood on the wall. Wilde expertly examines the evidence and launches into one of several Holmesian flights of deduction. In consequence, Doyle urges Wilde to consult a policeman friend, Aidan Fraser. The young Scotland Yard inspector listens intently and promises to follow up. When he fails to do so, Wilde becomes obsessed and unsuccessfully scours the city for clues. (Indeed, Sherard considers the possibility that Wilde has been mistaken or is exaggerating.) The case seems to be languishing until the Wildes’ Christmas dinner is disrupted by the arrival of a package containing Billy’s head. A piquant subplot finds Sherard falling in love with Fraser’s fiancée Veronica.
Brandreth (Philip and Elizabeth, 2005, etc.) captures Wilde’s frothy joie de vivre and develops this first installment of a proposed trilogy with color and aplomb.