“Oscar Wilde and the Ring of Death” by Gyles Brandreth

When Oscar Wilde starts the game of ‘Murder’ during his Sunday Supper Club, where all of the guests anonymously choose someone they would like to kill, little does he realise the chain of events he will set in motion. That very evening, the first ‘victim’ chosen in the game dies in mysterious circumstances, and the game appears to have taken a very deadly turn. Along with his trusted friend, Robert Sherard, Oscar will need to use his instincts, intelligence and power of observation to find the killer – but time is of the essence, as Oscar himself is destined to be ‘victim’ number thirteen.

This is an unusual Victorian crime novel, as Brandreth has chosen to use real people as the main characters of his book, and using the author Oscar Wilde as his detective, at a time when he was at the height of his success and fame. The story is told by narrator, Robert Sherard, who was a life-long friend of Oscar Wilde and an author is in own right, publishing poetry, novels and biographies in his lifetime, including five books about Wilde. This is a very interesting tactic on Brandreth’s part, as it allows Sherard to show us the investigation as Wilde conducts it, without giving away his thought processes and conclusions, and allowing us to try and solve the mystery as the plot unfolds.

There are plenty of Wilde’s contemporaries involved in the plot, including fellow authors Arthur Conan Doyle and Bram Stoker as well as artist Walter Sickert, which adds to the colour and interest of the world that Brandreth creates in the novel. It is obvious from the warmth of the writing that the author has a great regard for his subject, and on the book website he tells us that Oscar Wilde was his first real life hero. With a plot that touches on class and social issues of the time, as well as including the classic mystery elements and set in an interesting time in British history, this books is very evocative of the period and a rewarding and entertaining read.

I’d never considered to be a great reader of crime novels, but I’ve recently realised that I actually enjoy what I would call ‘alternative’ crime fiction. I don’t like modern crime, with graphic descriptions of violent crime, but I do very much enjoy period crime novels like this, or funny, light hearted crimes books like the Jasper Fforde novels or the Agatha Raisin murder mysteries. This book definitely falls in to my ‘alternative’ crime list, and I’ve found out it’s actually the second in the series, so I shall definitely be on the look out for the first book (“Oscar Wilde and the Candlelight Murders”) and eagerly anticipating the next one (“Oscar Wilde and the Dead Man’s Smile”) which will be published later this year.

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