Lynn Gardner: Oscar Wilde & A Death of No Importance


7.26.2014

Oscar Wilde & A Death of No Importance


Oscar Wilde & A Death of No Importance is the first book in The Oscar Wilde Murder Mysteries series by Gyles Brandreth and was my library's July book discussion selection. I've always been tremendously fond of Oscar Wilde and a novel in which he stars as an amateur detective sounded like just my cup of tea.

It was ... okay. The period detail is well done with a good feel for London at the end of the Victorian Age. The scandalous hints of sexual impropriety are treated delicately and appropriately for the time (even if it is a bit frustrating for the modern day reader). Meeting fictional versions of Arthur Conan Doyle and Robert Sherard was vastly entertaining. Wilde, a little less so. I enjoyed him very much as a character when he was being Oscar Wilde the Poet, Playwright, and Epigrammatist. But Oscar Wilde as Sherlock Holmes was a disappointment.

When Oscar is acting as Holmes, we are treated to stereotypical scenes of Holmesian brilliance. You know, the scene where we encounter a new character and Holmes immediately starts saying brilliant things he should have no way of knowing about the person? Often it has little to do with the overarching story and everything to do with showing of Holmes' scintillating deductive skills. There's nothing wrong with a scene like that, if it is carefully and sparingly used, but there's too much of it in Oscar Wilde & A Death of No Importance and it often seems to come out of the blue. Switch off Wilde. Switch on Holmes. Switch off Holmes. Switch on Wilde.

Also, as the clues Wilde-Holmes bases his deductions on in such scenes are frequently not made evident to the reader it makes it impossible for the reader make similar deductions. It forces reading to become a very passive experience -- with the reader just along for the ride -- and I am an active reader. My brain is constantly firing away, trying to figure out character motives and plot direction well ahead of whatever and/or whenever the narrator may chose to tell me. Riding along on Sherlock Holmes' or Oscar Wildes' coattails is just downright frustrating. It makes me say nasty things like "Oh, no, here come's another Mr. Clever Dick moment."

And yet, for all the clever dick moments, neither the motive behind and nor the means of murder were particularly clever or believable. There was also a definite squick factor to the murder's aftermath that jarred with the delicate way Wilde and friends' sexual improprieties were handled.

Will I read more in this series? No. Am I full of regret for having read it? No. Three out of five vermillion-coloured ties.

Oscar Wilde & A Death of No Importance by Gyles Brandreth (Simon & Schuster, 2007)

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