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3.8 out of 5 stars44
3.8 out of 5 stars
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Brandreth's research leads him to the discovery that Oscar Wilde and Conan Doyle had been friends. That discovery has lead to a really engaging novel where Oscar Wilde is, in effect, playing Sherlock Holmes.

Wilde has a mysterious appointment to keep at a house in London's Cowley Street. It is there that he discovers the body of a beautiful sixteen year old boy, surrounded by candles, with his throat cut. To make the situation even more complicated, as Wilde knew the young man and the 'lunch club' which he used to frequent.

Scotland Yard are reluctant to investigate, despite a word from Conan Doyle, so Wilde (and his faithful sidekick Robert Sherard) decides to investigate for themselves. Their investigations mean they cross paths with some very colourful characters.

I loved this book. Not only is it a great murder mystery, it also portrays vividly the characters of Wilde and Conan Doyle and also attempts to illuminate the nature of Wilde's marriage to Constance.

Fictional murder stories involving investigations by real historical figures appear to be in vogue at the moment, but this is one of the better ones.

Recommended.
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on 3 April 2008
I enjoyed this novel immensely. Brandreth is a superb writer with a nice line in understated humour and a keen ability to evoke a period. The story is intriguing and the characters very well-drawn, with Wilde himself emerging as fun, fascinating and humane. It's a terrific read and I hope the author will produce a whole series. Book 2 is out in May 2008.
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on 2 December 2007
This book is fabulous. Starting with the front cover - it's vibrant mix of colours and patterns represents the characters excellently. It was actually the cover that caught my eye rather than hearing about the book. I think this has done Gyles Brandreth a favour as most people won't know this side of him; instead they'll know him for his more dryer material!

The plot is quirky and sucks you straight in. Arthur Conan Doyle and Oscar Wilde are friends (this is confirmed in the notes at the back of the book), Doyle is in the middle of having one or two books published and Wilde enjoys the character of Sherlock Holmes. Thrown into the mix is the great-grandson of Wordsworth, Robert Sherard. Documented information is filtered throughout the novel and it is narrated by Robert.

It is written in the tradition (from the blurb) of Dorothy Sayers (whom I am not familiar with) and Arthur Conan Doyle. An easy read which will have you looking for clues as the novel progresses. Enjoyable characters and superbly written prose - I can't wait for the next one!
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on 15 October 2009
..then you may well enjoy this. Casting Oscar Wilde in the role of detective, specifically as Sherlock Holmes, gives us a detective of an unconventional sexuality for the time and for detective fiction generally. Apologies to the author if I have misinterpreted this, but I feel Brandreth is suggesting that Oscar Wilde was bisexual rather than gay, albeit with greater leanings toward his own sex. Written in the 1st person of Wilde's friend Robert Sherrard and as the charatcter would have seen it, Sherrard is unaware of Wilde's sexuality as the mystery takes place and reluctant to face it when he is looking back. A benefit of Sherrard's retrospective narration is the format allows for dropping in some historical titbits e.g the paid witnesses ranged against Wilde in his trial. The downside to this approach is the book is almost in denial about who Oscar Wilde was; a homosexual or at least if bisexual the great passion of his life was for "Bosie". By all means make the point that Wilde cared deeply for wife Constance and was not just using her but to shy from acknowledging who he was downgrades his struggle & the great speech made by Wilde when facing public disgrace and the prospect of hard labour.Even retrospectively there is little made of the burden of his double life.
The context of the book is prior to his trial and being "outed" for want of a better world, Oscar Wilde (writing Dorian Gray during the book's timeline)is a man enjoying success, friends, beauty in anyone male or female and a clubbing lifestyle. He is quick witted, mentally restless but physically less so and a spendthrift in other words a great unconventional hero. Wilde's Sherlockian deductions work well even if there are a litle too many and some are heavy handed.
Sherlock's author Arthur Conan Doyle plays a significant role, he finishes The Sign of The Four whilst the book's events take place.
The murder of a rent boy (as he would now be called)fuels the 1st 3rd or so after which it becomes more character based, until we are pulled back to the plot for a traditional drawing room whodunnit denouement as Wilde groups suspects together. The solution plays fair, in that you can look back at clues you picked up on or missed because they are in plain sight.
A slight weakness in the plot is very late on there are other killings which happen almost as if to justify the title.
A very enjoyable read but to get back to the original comparison not quite as well plotted as the Lucifer Box stories. Wth a better structured plot & more honesty about oscar Wilde's private life (after all the 19th Century was the 1 before last!) it would have been a classic. It is however, a good starting point and I will be reading more in the series.
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on 13 May 2007
I love a good crime novel with a historical setting so this sort of thing is right up my street.

As far as I can tell it has been meticulously researched and I found London and Wilde to have been beautifully evoked. Obviously with Oscar Wilde as your lead character it is hard to avoid peppering the book with bon mots and aphorisms. For me that simply served to bring the character of Wilde to life. I was also fascinated by all the little details of Wilde's life and by the take that the narrator has on the great scandal that is to come - heavily foreshadowed in the book.

Can Brandreth be blamed for taking advantage of the wealth of Wilde's Wit? I don't think so - in fact the prospect of getting a little Wildean wit in the world of Sherlock Holmes was what drew me to the book in the first place. That's what I wanted, that's what I got and I hugely enjoyed it.
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TOP 100 REVIEWERon 22 November 2010
The first of Gyles Brandreth's witty and enjoyable series is one of many such detective/mystery books set in the late Victorian period. I think it works remarkably well. The author has obviously put a great deal of research into the period, loves Oscar Wilde and the conceit isn't at all laboured as the investigation winds along in a logical and unhurried style. I do think that Mr Brandreth tries too hard to fit as many of Wilde's well known bon mots and witticisms in, and the mystery itself is a bit humdrum to be honest but those slight criticisms aside this is an enjoyable start to a series and I'll definitely be seeking out the second and subsequent volumes.
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The 1889 killing of young male prostitute Billy Wood must be avenged. Inspired by the recently published "A Study in Scarlet", Oscar Wilde emulates Holmes to track down the perpetrators. Conan Doyle is so impressed, he uses Wilde as the model for Holmes' brother Mycroft.

Such audacious concepts are in good hands - here a novel full of atmosphere, wit and mystery. Also there is fun, one sensing Gyles Brandreth often chuckling as he wrote. Wilde is not one to allow a murder to get in the way of life's pleasures - eating and drinking in particular to be described at length. Also he has other commitments - not least "The Picture of Dorian Gray" to write. The necessary detective groundwork is achieved by his little army of ragamuffins (another idea Conan Doyle allegedly copied).

Robert Sherard narrates, he Wilde's Dr. Watson - in 1939 his memory refreshed by detailed diaries. The gap in time allows him to put his friend's life in perspective, particularly the issues that caused his dramatic fall from grace. In those days Sherard (grandson of Wordsworth), had been a roue, seemingly falling in love with anyone who fluttered her eyelashes. The thought of homosexuality was ever a puzzle to him, the subject dealt here with discretion.

There is much to please. Little nuggets of incidental information occasionally surprise. (Skating so popular, the "Floating Glaciarium" one of the rinks abounding.) Characterization is strong, at times most colourful. Constance, Wilde's wife, delights. Particular pleasures include the celebration of the Twelve Days of Christmas, these to end so dramatically.

Wilde himself? He emerges as immensely resourceful and full of charm, although some may feel the relentless conveyor belt of wit a trifle tedious. (How much genuine him, how much Brandreth?). What perhaps moves most of all is his belief which is at the book's core: everyone is entitled to justice, even those with a lifestyle considered anathema by society and the Establishment. Billy was a victim, Wilde soon to be.

Overall? Sparkling, with serious undercurrents.

Recommended.
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on 4 June 2010
What an unusual read! I was first drawn in by the idea of Oscar Wilde and Arthur Conan Doyle solving murders together, but this book is much more than that!

I would say that basically this is a murder mystery, played out in the style of Sherlock holmes, but the characters are a great addition.

Wilde is written brilliantly and expertly, there is no doubt that the character is Oscar Wilde, even right from the start. Brandreth has done an amazing job of capturing this character. As a fan of Wilde's work, and having read several books on him, and having watched the film, Wilde, I would say that brandreth could not have got a more accurate depiction of Wilde if he had tried! An excellent job indeed!

The character of Conan Doyle doesn't appear nearly as much as I would have thought, but this is in no way a hinderance to the story.

The tale is told from the point of view of Robert Sherard, who I believe was the great-grandson of William Wordsworth. Who was, in reality, a great friend of Wilde's. He is also a great friend of his in this book, and is an utterly brilliant character.

But enough of the characters! The murder mystery storyline itself must be discussed!

Honestly, it was brilliant! A compelling story, I was hooked and had to read it in one sitting. However, my main issue was that, while reading it, there seemed to be very little relating to the murder in the first half of the book. In the first pages, Oscar finds the body of Billy Wood, there is some discussion of him over the next 150 or so pages, but really very little to do with trying to solve the murder. I found this quite frustrating, and I nearly gave up on the book! But suddenly about halfway through, it picks up, and action happens left, right and centre until the very end of the book!

So if you are willing to persevere, then this book is a fantastic read! A cleverly considered story, and a wonderful cast of characters. I was not dissappointed, my 4 stars instead of 5 is simply because of the lack of stuff happening in the first half. But otherwise, this is one of the best 'crime' stories i have read, and I highly recommend it.

I also recommend the Lucifer Box series by Mark Gatiss, not as well written storyline wise, but the characters and writing have a similar style.
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on 21 November 2010
It was through Brandreth's diaries that I became drawn to his fiction, and I was delighted by this book. It mixes facts with its fiction in a wonderfully deft and playful fashion, and creates a believeable little world of its own. I won't give away any more of the story that's already been noted, but this moves along at a pleasing pace and is full of wit and clever twists. Excellent.
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on 8 January 2008
This book is fabulous. Starting with the front cover - it's vibrant mix of colours and patterns represents the characters excellently. It was actually the cover that caught my eye rather than hearing about the book. I think this has done Gyles Brandreth a favour as most people won't know this side of him; instead they'll know him for his more dryer material!

The plot is quirky and sucks you straight in. Arthur Conan Doyle and Oscar Wilde are friends (this is confirmed in the notes at the back of the book), Doyle is in the middle of having one or two books published and Wilde enjoys the character of Sherlock Holmes. Thrown into the mix is the great-grandson of Wordsworth, Robert Sherard. Documented information is filtered throughout the novel and it is narrated by Robert.

It is written in the tradition (from the blurb) of Dorothy Sayers (whom I am not familiar with) and Arthur Conan Doyle. An easy read which will have you looking for clues as the novel progresses. Enjoyable characters and superbly written prose - I can't wait for the next one!
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