Oscar Wilde and a Death of No Importance

An appellation articulated and coined in the twenty-first century, “bromance” well describes Gyles Brandreth’s recent novel about Oscar Wilde and his friend Robert Sherard in the late nineteenth century. As in contemporary bromances, Oscar Wilde and a Death of No Importance features an intimate but platonic relationship between two men. Sherard narrates the book’s action with unabashed enthusiasm and almost worshipful appreciation for Oscar Wilde. There is no hint, however, of any sexual intimacy between the two men. Actually, Sherard’s heterosexual proclivities play an important role in how the plot progresses.

In a ritualistic setting of candles and incense, Wilde discovers the body of young, beautiful Billy Wood. Wilde flees. When he later returns with his friend Sherard and a new acquaintance, Arthur Conan Doyle, the corpse is gone and the bloody scene is thoroughly cleansed. Wilde, determined to solve the mystery, does so by imitating the ratiocination of Sherlock Holmes. Although he consults Scotland Yard, Wilde cannot produce a body. Thus, the aesthete must find a solution on his own (with the help of Robert Sherard, of course).

What follows is a marvelous romp through 1889-1890 literary and historical London and Paris. The reader meets a wide range of real and imagined characters. Sherard himself is a descendent of William Wordsworth, and other notable authors appear. Conan Doyle’s own role is an important one. I thought it great fun to see how Brandreth not only catches the complicated spirit of Oscar Wilde but also mimics the methods of Doyle’s famous literary detective. Robert Sherard, of course, serves as Oscar Wilde’s Watson. Together, the two “bros” (bromancers) unearth the reasons for Billy Wood’s demise.

Fans of this time period will be charmed. Occasionally I was dismayed by Sherard’s reverential tone, but overall I was amused. Many others readers must be fans, too, for Brandreth has published five subsequent Oscar Wilde mysteries: Oscar Wilde and a Game Called Murder, Oscar Wilde and the Dead Man’s Smile, Oscar Wilde and the Vampire Murders, Oscar Wilde and the Vatican Murders, Oscar Wilde and the Murders at Reading Gaol. All of them apparently feature Conan Doyle, too, continuing Brandreth’s semi-serious spoof of Sherlock Holmes’s methodology.

Brandreth’s portrayals of Wilde and Doyle are convincing, thorough, and thoroughly delightful. Paying close attention to their clothes, their gestures, their language, and their eccentricities, he completely captures their spirits. He captures the spirit of late nineteenth-century London, too—the food, the beverages, the clubbiness of the upper-class males. Brandreth has done his homework, so his portrayals ring true throughout the novel. Those of us who enjoy Victorian England, and especially late-Victorian England, will relish every page. – Ann Ronald

Also available by Gyles Brandreth: Oscar Wilde and a Game Called Murder; The 7 Secrets of Happiness; Oscar Wilde and the Candlelight Murders; Breaking the Code: Westminster Diaries; The Lost Art of Having Fun; Oscar Wilde and the Vampire Murders; Oscar Wilde and the Vatican Murders; Oscar Wilde and the Dead Man’s Smile; Oscar Wilde and the Murders at Reading Gaol; Something Sensational to Read on the Train; Oscar Wilde and the Nest of Vipers; The Super Joke Book; The Joy of Lex; The Great Book of Optical Illusions; The Slippers that Talked; Max, the Boy Who Made a Million; Optical Illusions, Challenge Your Visual Thinking; The Bumper Book of Brainteasers; Word Play.

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