Barrister and criminologist Hyde, author most recently of a biography of Oscar Wilde, meticulously reconstructs an earlier Victorian scandal--the first major prosecution brought under an 1885 law dealing (among other things) with homosexual acts. The new law not only proscribed ""any act of gross indecency"" between males of any age, but included the phrase ""in public or in private."" Therefore when three young telegraph boys admitted that they had been recruited for carnal pleasures at a house on Cleveland Street and identified one patron as Lord Somerset, equerry to the Prince of Wales, government and press bigwigs were confronted with an explosive conflict of interests. Worse still was the rumor that none other than ""Prince Eddy,"" elder son of the Prince of Wales, had put in appearances at Cleveland Street. Soon three trials were in the offing--of Somerset, of another male-brothel habituÃ‰, and of Somerset's solicitor, who was accused of conspiring with witnesses. But Somerset fled abroad to avoid trial (was he warned by the prime minister? was he covering for a royal Somebody?) and died in France. There is a wealth of material from courtroom and press but the general reader, unacquainted with British government and legal procedure, may find the going rugged. However, this illumines the bizarre consequences of a disastrous kink in the annals of British jurisprudence, and anticipates the downfall of Wilde.