Nancy McKibben's Reviews > Oscar Wilde and the Murders at Reading Gaol

Oscar Wilde and the Murders at Reading Gaol by Gyles Brandreth
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really liked it
bookshelves: historical-fiction, mystery, suspense, reviewed
Recommended for: readers who like mysteries set in Victorian England (especially literary ones)

Oscar Wilde and the Murders at Reading Gaol
By Gyles Brandreth

Oscar Wilde, compelled by author Gyles Brandreth, has joined the ranks of dead authors turned into detectives (he has fortunately thus far escaped being turned into a zombie or vampire hunter.) While this isn’t my favorite sub-genre, wonderful things can happen in the hands of the right author. I have always loved Wilde the writer and pitied Wilde the man, the genius who was the darling of Victorian society until he was disgraced and died poor and estranged from his family at just forty-one years of age.

Given that not everyone is familiar with Oscar Wilde, this series serves as a gentle introduction. He is best known for his plays, which are for the most part witty comedies that skewer the hypocrisies of British society - The Importance of Being Earnest is my favorite; for his fairy tales like The Happy Prince and The Selfish Giant; for his novel The Picture of Dorian Gray; for his poetry and essays; and for his epigrams: “I can resist anything but temptation” is a famous one. Another: “A cynic is a man who knows the price of everything and the value of nothing.”

This is the sixth of the Oscar Wilde series, and it covers the unhappy years when Wilde, who was married and had a family, became so besotted with the young noble Robert Ross that he abandoned all discretion and let their affair become known to Ross’s father. Victorian society, who had hitherto lauded Wilde, rewarded him with a two year jail sentence for sodomy after Ross’s father brought charges against him.

Victorian prisons were grim places indeed, and this book reflects Wilde’s surroundings; it is altogether darker than the works that precede it. But Wilde is an interesting companion, even when he is despairing, and he is clever enough to solve two murders that take place in Reading Gaol, even though he is confined like all prisoners in a solitary cell and is forbidden to speak to anyone.

One of the strengths of this series is the way Brandreth so convincingly uses the facts of Wilde’s life to create his fiction. For example, Wilde was good friends with Arthur Conan Doyle, the creator of Sherlock Holmes, so Wilde is able to learn methods of detection from Doyle in a natural way. The narrator of the series is Robert Sherard, a close friend of Wilde and his biographer, so he can admiringly record Wilde’s adventures. And after finishing this book, I read Wilde’s "The Ballad of Reading Gaol" which he did indeed write after leaving prison.

So although this book is more somber than the others, it is still compelling, and as well worth reading.

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Reading Progress

June 4, 2013 – Started Reading
July 5, 2013 – Finished Reading
July 7, 2013 – Shelved
July 7, 2013 – Shelved as: historical-fiction
July 7, 2013 – Shelved as: mystery
July 7, 2013 – Shelved as: suspense
July 20, 2013 – Shelved as: reviewed

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