After a string of sleuthing successes, has the Dynamic Victorian Duo met its match in the most formidable criminal of the era? Silly question.
Narrating in an appropriately plummy first person, Sherlock Holmes creator Sir Arthur Conan Doyle relates his latest adventure with peerless wit Wilde (Oscar Wilde and the Murders at Reading Gaol, 2012, etc.), which begins when drunken Wilde, making no secret of the fact that his financial situation is dire, visits the author on the first day of 1894 to offer holiday wishes and entice him into another investigative romp. The pair hook up with Chief Constable Macnaghten of the Metropolitan Police, who’s tracking a malefactor whose modus operandi unnervingly recalls that of the infamous Jack the Ripper. The discovery of a new victim five years after the initial spate of killings has raised fears of a return, and the fact that the murder occurred not in Whitechapel but in the more affluent Chelsea neighborhood raises additional questions. Wilde and Doyle’s leisurely probe begins with a close study of the five verified Ripper murders from the previous decade. The duo’s interrogation of suspects and witnesses does not preclude entertaining detours like a trip to the circus with Oscar’s wife and two sons. They rub elbows with Bram Stoker and Lewis Carroll. While they don’t publicly expose the identity of the serial killer, they bear witness to another of his crimes, and Wilde makes a compelling case for his identity.
Brandreth’s seventh Wilde mystery feels like two books in one: a crisp account of the Ripper murders and a droll roman à clef about the last years of the singular Wilde. As with the author’s earlier Wilde mysteries, the journey far overshadows the destination, and delightfully so.