Item of the Week: Oscar Wilde, Private Detective?

Published: February 9, 2011

Oscar Wilde is remembered for many things, his writing, his poetry, and his infamous trial for gross indecency in 1895.  But what few remember are his crime-solving exploits with Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.

Although Wilde was (as far as historians can tell) never an actual sleuth, he plays one in three new novels by Gyles Brandreth.  Set in London beginning in 1889, Wilde and his sidekick Doyle (in a nod to actual history, the pair had met that same year, according to Doyle’s autobiography) take on a series of brutal murders which stump detectives at Scotland Yard.

In book 1, entitled Oscar Wilde and the Candlelight Murders (UK) or Oscar Wilde and a Death of No Importance (USA), Wilde and Doyle attempt to solve the murder of sixteen-year-old Billy Wood, a murder which could reveal itself to be a deadly cult ritual.

In book 2, entitled Oscar Wilde and the Ring of Death (UK) or Oscar Wilde and a Game Called Murder (USA), Wilde and Doyle attend a dinner party including such literary luminaries as Bram Stoker and Robert Sherard.  Wilde proposes a dinner game wherein everyone writes down who they would most like to murder, if they were unable to be caught.  It seems innocent, until the first named victim turns up dead the very next day.

In book 3, Oscar Wilde and the Dead Man’s Smile (UK & USA), Wilde travels to Paris to collaborate with theater manager Edmond La Grange and Sarah Bernhardt.  Several murders lead him directly to the heart of the La Grange Theater Company, putting both his life and reputation in mortal danger.

The author has been praised for his thorough knowledge of Wilde’s persona and mannerisms.   The Sunday Express writes that “Brandreth also gives his hero speeches of great beauty and wisdom and humanity.” The Sunday Times agrees, writing that “the rattlingly elegant dialogue is peppered with witticisms uttered well before he ever thought of putting them into his plays.”  Others praise the addition of treats for fans of Sherlock Holmes, as Brandreth intimates that Wilde was in fact an inspiration for the famous literary detective.

Wilde himself wrote, “All but two of my five names have already been thrown overboard.  In time, I shall discard another.  A century from now, my friends will call me Oscar; my enemies will call me Wilde.”  Brandreth appears to have added another moniker to Wilde, that of star literary detective.  Fans of Brandreth can expect several more books in the series, as it is planned to contain as many as 9.  The Clark currently holds the first three volumes.

From Jessica Smith, Reading Room Assistant.

One Comment

james on

how totally bizarre. how utterly utter. i wonder if this qualifies as fan-fic?

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