Review: Oscar Wilde and the Ring of Death by Gyles Brandreth

Talented and witty, and with a fabulously successful play playing to packed houses, Oscar is the toast of the town. On one of his club nights he plays a game with his guests, “who would you murder” and sets into motion events which look like they will result, not only in his own death, but the death of his beloved Constance.

Review by Erastes

I had been looking forward to this book ever since I had finished the first one, Oscar Wilde and the Candlelight Murders.

At the risk of sound like Oscar, sadly, the journey is so often much more fun than the terminus. Where the first book captured me with with its sparkle this one bored me rather than entertained.

While Brandreth does a good job of taking one on a tour of fin de siecle London (with a map, no less, this time!) and introduces us to many interesting characters, real-life ones and invented, I felt this book simply didn’t hang together in the same way that the first book did. I was often confused and whole scenes would go by which turned out to entirely useless in furthering the plot in any way.  I think that Brandreth was attempting, in a Christie fashion, to create red-herrings, but it wasn’t done with any conviction and I never once was led down any path. In fact, I went through the entire book not knowing, or indeed not even caring enough to suspect anyone at all.

What annoyed me particularly was that Oscar was not charismatic in this book, he was extraordinarily annoying. I am not enough of a Wilde fan to know whether the sayings he continually came out with were his own, or Brandreth’s, but I couldn’t help but think that most of the book was just Brandreth trying to be clever.  Literally nothing happened for half the book, and nothing appeared to be happening for the other half.

The denouement was a complete surprise because other than the smallest of clues, there was literally no indication that this person was marked as the murderer. I like to be surprised, after all isn’t that part of the fun of reading a murder mystery? but I don’t like to go WTF? HIM? WHY? When the big moment comes. I was still boggling, even after Oscar Explained It All.

I know that the tradition in some murder stories is to have the amateur sleuth amazingly clever and the police incredibly dim, but in this book, EVERYONE, from the police to Conan Doyle to Robert Sherrad (the narrator) are thick as two short planks, and the only one with two brain cells to rub together is Wilde.

Not that I wanted a gay story, as the first book had a strong homosexual theme, but with Bosie on the scene and with their affair obviously in full swing, I would have expected a little more to be made of that. What did amuse me, though, was that Bosie’s older brother was also suspected of ‘unnaturallness’ with a politician.

I’d say that if you really really liked the first one, then get this from the library before shelling out any money on it. I have to say, also, that I don’t appreciate the first eight or so pages of any book I read to be filled with reviews of that particular book.

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7 Responses

  1. Bosie’s older brother was suspected of “unnaturalness” with a politician IRL – and shot himself because of it. Not sure if you knew that.

  2. I agree somewhat with Erastes. It’s possible to to include too many clevernesses to entertain and bewitch the reader, but with the result that they read on but don’t have a clue.

    A lot of the book is certainly based on reality, but that doesn’t automatically strengthen the narrative. However the gay element simply rumbled on, annoying Lord Queensbury, feeling like it’s going to lead to something in a later book (I suspect we all know what happened to Oscar in real life.)

    That said, I enjoyed it. It just felt like part two of a series. On TV you could forgive this. but a book should feel complete.

    Finally, not wishing to be too pedantic, but it’s “Gyles” Brandreth.

    • That’s a good point, Maxley, yes, if he’s going to develop this in later books, fine, but there was too much “setting up” if so. Jim Butcher does it perfectly with his Dresden books, using stuff much later down the line that he’s set up but each book is a complete arc.


  3. Hmm, that’s disappointing. Like you, I loved #1 but I have to say for me it was primarily because of the ‘written’ Oscar himself. The plot was dark and interesting, but the characters shone.

    I’ve bought this book but not yet read it, I’ll see how it goes!

  4. Ooh, thanks for the tip-off – I’d been wondering about this one, having enjoyed the first. I’ll give it a miss and spend my money elsewhere …



  5. It sounds a little too much like a book that was written to satisfy a multiple-volume contract, sadly. What a shame.

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