When someone sends the creator of a legendary sleuth a severed hand, the game is afoot!
After a rhapsodic 1877 letter from Oscar Wilde to his devoted mother concerning the wonders of Rome, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle sets out to narrate the tale in chief, beginning 15 years later at a Homburg spa. Doyle is flush with success, Wilde decidedly less so, though critically celebrated, and the duo enjoys a friendly, albeit barbed rivalry. Oscar relishes the region's sensuous delights, but for Doyle this will be a working vacation. He brings an Everest of fan mail to answer, clearly triggering Wilde's envy. Inside one package, postmarked Rome, they find a severed hand. Another, smaller package from Rome contains a finger, which they at first mistake for a cigar. Doyle advises proceeding carefully, but Wilde, with brio, convinces him to "act recklessly." Indeed, a delightfully dangerous adventure may be just what the doctor ordered for the weary Doyle. So it's off to Rome. On the lengthy train ride, the pair shares confidences from their past and meet nervous Martin Sadler and his effervescent sister Irene (a name that should be familiar to fans of Sherlock Holmes). Tea at the Vatican with the influential circolo inglese proves a turning point in the mystery, which involves precious jewels and deceased Pontiffs.
Brandreth's fifth Oscar Wilde caper (Oscar Wilde and the Vampire Murders, 2011, etc.) floats on a cushion of bubbly banter and droll period references. The whole series is literary escapism of a high order, though with each episode the mystery seems to recede further in importance.