Oscar Wilde and the Dead Man's Smile: A Mystery Paperback – Sep 1 2009
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"Immensely enjoyable, one of the best in the canon of literary mysteries." -- The Philadelphia Inquirer
About the Author
Gyles Brandreth is a bestselling author, broadcaster, entertainer, and former MP and British government minister. In addition to the Oscar Wilde Murder Mysteries, he is the author of two acclaimed royal biographies: Philip & Elizabeth: Portrait of a Marriage and Charles & Camilla: Portrait of a Love Affair.See all Product Description
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Clever and unusual murders and the solution to the mystery aside, the historical aspects of the novel are engaging as are the salacious peeks into the dark underbelly of late nineteenth century Paris. Known to one and all for his pithy witticisms as well as his ability to regurgitate the equally amusing social observations of others, Oscar comes across as a varitable warehouse of pronouncements arrived at following intelligent scrutiny of the human animal, i.e., "The foolish and the dead alone never change their opinions", or "In the ocean of baseness, the deeper we get, the easier the sinking", or "Journalism is unreadable and literature is not read".
While the story does address Wilde's flamboyant style of dress and his preference for large amounts of absinthe and laudanum (opium/morphine) it neatly skirts his questionable sexual orientation and presents him as a man completely enamored of Constance Lloyd (the woman whom he later married). This is a forgivable sin, since Brandreth's Oscar is as completely captivating and entertaining a protagonist as one could ask for.
For anyone who enjoys their historical fiction liberally peppered with recognizable names coupled with an amusing, relatively easy read, OSCAR WILDE AND THE DEAD MAN'S SMILE are well worth your time.
The book has a fairly slow start. It seemed like the author was simply plugging the narrative with every Oscar Wilde quote I ever heard, but setting it in a scenario appropriate to the context of the quote. La Grange's description is very crudely done: a lot of blunt sentences starting with "He was" or "He looked" or "He had." Very awkward to read.
However, once we get to the point where Wilde is in Paris, things start to even out, and the book is quite good from that point on. I did stay up late to finish it. There is one big glaring thing that confuses me, though. During Wilde & Sherard's recap with Conan Doyle at the end of the book, they discuss the murders that took place. One of these took place on the boat coming back from America. Wilde emphasizes that a set of four murders had been planned, after which point all the killing would be finished. (We had learned about this "set of four murders" much earlier in the book, but here he recapitulates for the benefit of Conan Doyle.) However, at this point of the story when the first murder is committed, before the boat docks in England, there is not yet a motive for any of the three future deaths. The criminal mastermind has no reason to kill until much later in the book. So are we to believe that the mastermind simply wanted a set of four arbitrary deaths, just to show off, and that conveniently, this person later learns that there are people nearby who need to be killed?
I may reread it tonight to see if I misunderstood that part, but it seems to me that is a pretty glaring mistake.
Otherwise, this story hews very closely to the format used by Bayard, where the famous person and his non-famous sidekick work out the mystery to the gratification of the local authorities, and then in a closing chapter the famous person turns the explanation around and shows that it actually happened differently. I really hated this when Bayard did it, but it doesn't bother me in this book, and I don't know why that is.
The book was a satisfying read, and by the second third of the book I was quite content with its narrative and progression. There was a little bit too much about Sherard's personal life, which was slightly detrimental to the story, but these sections are mostly skim-worthy.
Let's go back to the beginning. Mr. Brandwreth is a very good writer and has demonstrated the ability to spin an admirable yarn. That being said, I found Dead Man's Smile to be disappointingly long and tedious. Even the storyline grew hazy at times. There are a multitude of characters and although many are well depicted, too many characters can easily slow a book's pace.
I will concede that sometimes I am not in the mood for a specific type of book and/or writing style and this may have been the case; however, I found Oscar and Robert Sheridan's slow moving investigation somewhat irksome. Perhaps I missed the uniqueness of Mr. Wilde's campy sense of humor and unparalleled wit. To me, this installment presented him as being somewhat pedestrian, if not downright pedantic. Where was the "fun" that the first two books captured and presented so easily?
Brandreth is a Wilde student, and a student of the period, and he certainly has it down cold. He sometimes seems to be challenging his reader to say "hey, that's an anachronism." He makes half a dozen references to Lucky Strike cigarettes, for example, but a little research shows that they were indeed popular in the period. If Brandreth made any slipups, I couldn't catch them.
Surprisingly, Wilde's homosexuality isn't mentioned at all, except for a couple of vague hints. The reason is that the story is told through the eyes of Wilde's friend Robert Sherard, a real person, best known for his later Wilde biography which soft-pedals this aspect of Wilde's life (astonishingly, Sherard claimed to be ignorant of it until the scandal broke in 1895). This is the third of nine (!) books promised in this series, and I look forward to seeing what happens in the later books when Oscar starts feasting with panthers.
It is Christmas time in London, Oscar Wilde tours the famous waxworks. Meeting with his new friend Arthur Conan Doyle he presents him with a Christmas present. It is a manuscript which is missing the last chapter. The manuscript describes Wilde's travels to the United States and Paris in the 1889's.
Wilde lectures draw crowds in big cities and in mining towns. He is a celebrity and an oddity, foreigner in velvet trousers. As fascinating as his travels are the plot doesn't begin until well into the book when he meets a professional gambler and the famous La Grange Family, an acting dynasty. He travels with them to Paris in order to work on a translation of Hamlet. Strange and terrible events follow. Are they connected? Are they accidents, suicides or murder? Oscar Wilde plays detective but will he survive to sort out the truth.
Wilde and Doyle meet again at New Years. Doyle presents in solution to the missing chapter and Wilde reveals all.
While this book is well written and interesting, I had some difficulty telling the difference between the very detail facts and the fictional story. I believe if the notes at the end of the book were more detailed I would not have struggled so. Also the mystery is secondary to the story of Wilde himself and his desire for fame. At this point in his life he is almost the Paris Hilton of his time. Today's tabloids would have had a field day.
History buffs and English majors will love this book