From his offices in Fleet Street, Samuel Bassett, editor of Youth’s Companion, berates his copy editors, denies heat to his printers, and tosses aspiring writers out on their ears. But when Bassett falls dead at the feet of Arthur Conan Doyle and Charles Lutwidge Dodgson (a.k.a. Lewis Carroll), these two literary lights from the provinces (The Problem of the Spiteful Spiritualist, 1999, etc.) set off into a London blizzard to find his murderer, since Inspectors Calloway (City of London Police, we have jurisdiction here) and MacRae (Metropolitan Police, thank you very much) fix on Oscar Wilde as the most likely suspect. Fortunately, Bassett’s boyhood chum Nicholas Portman takes charge of the out-of-towners, ferrying them to the offices of Punch, where John Tenniel and George Du Maurier send them off to Tite Street in search of Wilde. They also inspect Bassett’s Baker Street digs for clues, stopping on the way to escort freelance typist Helen Harvey home to Sloane Square. The next day, after visiting the Holbein Street home of Myrna Peterson, widow of the Youth’s Companion copywriter, they venture into Whitechapel to find out why both Bassett and Peterson had tracts on their desks from Toynbee Hall settlement house. Finally, Dodgson summons all concerned to dinner at the Café Royal for a denouement so thumpingly obvious even readers of Alice in Wonderland might have guessed it.
As Dodgson and Doyle crisscross London by carriage and coach, the plot lumbers along like an elephant. If The Oxford Companion to English Literature had conjugal relations with a London tourist map, this might be the result.