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Oscar Wilde and the Ring of Death - Gyles Brandreth

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Author: Gyles Brandreth / Format: Paperback / Date of publication: 05 February 2009 / Genre: Crime & Thriller / Subcategory: Historical Mysteries / Publisher: John Murray General Publishing Division / Title: Oscar Wilde and the Ring of Death / ISBN 13: 9780719569609 / ISBN 10: 0719569609

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      21.09.2011 00:25
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      Oscar Wilde's dinner party game of 'murder' has disastrous consequences....

      Hardcover: 416 pages 
      Publisher: John Murray; First Edition edition (1 May 2008) 
      Language: English 
       
      Brief Description 
      Oscar Wilde and the Ring of Death is the second instalment of a well received series of murder mysteries by Gyles Brandreth, pitting the great Oscar Wilde himself as a super sleuth. 
      IMPORTANT: Please be aware that 'Oscar Wilde and the Ring Of Death' is also published under the name of 'Oscar Wilde and A Game Called Murder' for the American market. You do not need to read both as they are the same book! 
       
      Synopsis 
      It's 1892 and celebrated poet and playwright Oscar Wilde is at the height of his fame.  
      He decides to host a lavish dinner party at a meeting of his 'Socrates Club', with a star studded guest list boasting some of the most celebrated figures of the Victorian age including Arthur Conan Doyle, Bram Stoker and Walter Sickert. 
      Oscar decides to entertain his guests with a game of 'Murder', a game where each person writes down the name of a person whom they would most like to murder, and the other guests attempts to match each anonymous note to it's author. 
      However, even the greatest wit of the Victorian age cannot anticipate the consequences of his seemingly innocent game. It seems that one of the guests is taking this game a little bit too seriously, as one by one the suggested murder victims meet gruesome ends. 
      With the help of his friend, the ever faithful Robert Sherard, Wilde must unravel the mystery before he himself becomes the next victim. 
       
      What I liked about it? 
      I'm often interested in historical fiction but find myself put off by the archaic language and writing styles used. What I loved about this book however, is the fact that it was really easy to understand, whilst still seeming authentically Victorian. In his self-appointed mission as detective, Wilde gains access to all degrees of Victorian culture and life from 'The ring of death' boxing venue to the luxury Cadogan Hotel, to theaters, brothels and French bookstores. End of the century London provides a fitting and fascinating back drop for this murder mystery. 
       
      Also, Oscar Wilde's dialogue is written brilliantly - the elegant, witty and intelligent speech you would expect from a genius like Wilde himself but simultaneously amusing and understandable to a modern audience. I found it to be a fully believable portrait of Oscar Wilde and was impressed by the writers ability to bring this man to life quite so convincingly. He is endearing, yet arrogant, flawed yet brilliant. In particular I found his vanity amusing - his pursual of beauty and avoidance of ugliness was true to Oscar's real life downfall. It felt like a well researched biography as much as it did a murder mystery.  
       
      I loved the cast of real life historical characters, it adds a touch of realism to the novel. 
      For example, the flirtatious relationship between 'Bosie' and Wilde (which Sherard is apparently oblivious too) and the underlying tension between the Marquess of Queensberry (Bosie's father) and Wilde is particularly interesting if you are aware of the real life story of these relationships.  
      Similarly, Bosie's brother Lord Drumlanrig being accused of having an 'unnatural relationship' with an older man is amusing considering real life events.... 
      Brandreth appears to have a well researched knowledge not just of Oscar Wilde himself but of his circle of friends and famous acquaintances.  
       
      What I disliked about it? 
      At times, the narrator Robert Sherard felt a little redundant. He appeared to have little personality of his own and served only to do Oscar's bidding. He also seems a little slow - oblivious to the true nature of Oscar and Lord Alfred 'Bosie' Douglas's 'friendship' and offers little assistance in actually solving the mystery. Whilst this portrayal appears to be historically accurate, I cannot understand why a stronger character wasn't chosen as a narrator. 
       
      The pace can be a little slow at times, particularly around the middle of the book. It therefore comes across as disjointed in places and I feel that the tension could have been maintained more if the book moved at a faster pace.  

      Finally, I would have liked to have seen and heard more from some of the other characters such as Bram Stoker and Arthur Conan-Doyle. Because what is the point in having such an impressive selection of supporting characters if they are utilised so little?  
       
      Where to buy?
      I borrowed this book from the library as I do most books.
      However, if you were looking to buy this book, Amazon currently has it listed at round about the £6 mark. A better deal might be found on Ebay, or by buying it as part of a boxset of the series (currently listed at £8.80 for the first 3 books of the series on Snazal.com).

      Conclusion
      A witty and highly enjoyable read, boasting an impressive cast of historical figures, set against the atmospheric backdrop of Victorian London.
      Brandreth's characterisation of our protagonist is both authentic Oscar Wilde and authentic amateur detective at the same time.

      PS: I borrowed the title quote from the great man himself.

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