Brandreth stumbles in his subpar fourth mystery featuring Oscar Wilde as sleuth (after 2009's Oscar Wilde and the Dead Man's Smile). On the evening of March 13, 1890, Wilde attends a party along with the cream of English society, including the prince of Wales. The following day, the press reports that the hostess, the duchess of Albemarle, succumbed to a heart attack in her bed, but the true story is much different. The duchess's half-nude corpse was actually found in the telephone room, with numerous cuts and two fang-like punctures in her neck that could have reached her jugular. The prince of Wales taps Wilde and Arthur Conan Doyle to investigate. Doyle, journalist Robert Sherard, theater manager Bram Stoker, and artist Rex LaSalle, who claims to be a vampire, take turns narrating the disjointed story, which leads to an unsatisfying conclusion. One hopes Brandreth will return to form in the next installment. (May)
Oscar Wilde is back in rare form in this clever and intricate mystery that brings 1890s London vibrantly to life. Wilde and his posse—Arthur Conan Doyle and Bram Stoker, among others—are introduced at a royal reception hosted by the lovely Duchess of Albemarle; alas, the Duchess dies unexpectedly later that night, two tiny puncture wounds in her neck. Vampires were all the rage back then, and Stoker's character helps provide the background information so that this makes perfectly good sense. In Brandreth's fourth series entry (after Oscar Wilde and the Dead's Man Smile), he writes in an engaging tell-all style that sheds a bright light on the sexual and social mores of the period. VERDICT Great stuff for readers who love juicy historical tidbits and are intrigued by real writers acting as amateur sleuths. The multiple points of view propel the plot forward at a lively pace, never bogging down with information dumps. Perhaps your Matthew Pearl readers have started on this series?
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.