The fourth entry in an over-the-top Victorian mystery series, starring the ever-so-rakish Oscar Wilde.
British aristocracy must have a remarkable amount of free time, judging from the output of author, TV personality and former Member of Parliament Brandreth (Oscar Wilde and the Dead Man’s Smile, 2009, etc.). Here the novelist continues to mine the bons mots of the 19th century’s most rebellious iconoclast. Like its predecessor, this story is stitched together from the fictional memoirs of Wilde’s biographer Robert Sherard, and punctuated with letters, telegrams and notes scribbled on the backs of cocktail napkins. Eventually, Brandreth provides a rousing, if overly convoluted, tale of detectives, murderers and royalty. Prefaced by a superfluous interlude between Sherard and Wilde over absinthe in Paris circa 1900, the novel picks up 10 years earlier in London at a reception hosted by The Duke and Duchess of Albemarle. It’s there that Robert and Oscar meet the intriguing actor Rex LaSalle, who claims to be a vampire. “Iced champagne is your drink of choice: blood is mine,” the actor purrs. “Have you ever tasted blood, Mr. Wilde? Fresh blood, blood that is warm to the tongue? Human blood.” Oscar doesn’t miss a beat. “No,” says Wilde. “The wine list at my club is dreadfully limited.” It’s in this vein, so to speak, that Brandreth continues apace, as the Duchess is found dead in her velvet evening gown, with punctures on her throat. Ever fearful of gossip and rumor among the bourgeoisie, the Prince of Wales (later King Edward VII) requests a restrained investigation by Wilde and his friend Arthur Conan Doyle, already famous for creating Sherlock Holmes. Fans of Victorian popular literature will love the overstuffed plot, which tosses in everyone from Bram Stoker to Antonín Dvorák for good measure. Others may find their capacity for Brandreth’s gas-lit humor is limited by their appreciation for his extravagant literary toy box.
A witty, if wildly implausible jaunt into the boys’ clubs of a different age.