Life fatally imitates a Wildean divertissement.
With the theatrical triumph of Lady Windermere’s Fan and his infatuation with Lord Alfred “Bosie” Douglas in full flower, Oscar Wilde possesses a joie de vivre that’s palpable, according to his confidant and biographer Robert Sherard, whose plummy voice tells the story. His circle of intimates includes some of the era’s brightest artistic lights: Arthur Conan Doyle, Bram Stoker and Walter Sickert (whom several later parties, including Patricia Cornwell, have pegged as Jack the Ripper). Wilde enlists these and a few others for the Socrates Club. At their dinner meeting, he introduces a provocative game in which each of the 14 gentlemen anonymously identifies the person he would most like to murder. Names of the would-be victims are written on little slips of paper, drawn from a hat and read aloud. It’s all very harmless and entertaining until the Reverend George Daubeney’s proposed victim, Elizabeth Scott-Rivers, is found burned to death. Even before the coroner has ruled her demise a death by misadventure, the inquisitive Wilde is probing. As in Oscar Wilde and a Death of No Importance (2008), he enlists the assistance of Doyle, who ironically plays Watson to the playwright’s Holmes. Potential rough waters in his romance with Bosie and additional murders add spice.
A delicious bagatelle, frothier and more imaginative than its predecessor.