The Daily Monocle

Critical book reviews from a literary skeptic.

Saturday, July 31, 2010

Oscar Wilde and a Game Called Murder by Gyles Brandreth

Posted by J. P. Wickwire

Fanfiction taught me almost everything I know about writing.

I know. That sounds funny. But it's so true. I wrote Star Wars fanfiction from eighth grade on through high school, and it laid the foundation for what I write today. It taught me about plot, and dialogue, and most of all about characterization. It gave me a steady readership, so that I could feel like I was writing towards an audience.

So imagine my excitement when I found some fanfiction of sorts on in the bargain bin at my local bookstore. No, it wasn't Star Wars. This, my friend, was literary fanfiction, if such a term exists. And it involved Oscar Wilde. What more could I ask for? I gingerly plucked the gem from its paltry $3.99 stack, and began reading at once.

Oscar Wilde and a Game Called Murder by Gyles Brandreth, is a tale unlike any I've read before. Set against the backdrop of early Victorian England, this novel turns the literary master himself into an amateur sleuth.

During his weekly meeting of the Socrates Club, Oscar Wilde decides that the club will play the game "murder", wherein each guest writes the name of a person they'd like to murder on a slip of paper. The papers are then mixed together in a hat, and then read one by one, as the players try to guess who wrote which name.

But when each of the game's 'victims' begin to actually disappear, Oscar takes it on himself to catch the real murderer before it's too late. Teamed with the likes of Bram Stoker and Arthur Conan Doyle, Oscar Wilde takes us on a literary rollercoaster of witticisms, familiar faces, and Victorian intrigue.

Brandreth's characterization of Wilde is simply delightful. We as readers are treated to all the familiar charm we see in Wilde's own works, and Brandreth's style compliments these droll sentiments perfectly.

The writing style is clean and simple. It has a pseudo-Victorian feel, and I think that's due largely to the combination of modern prose, and period dialogue. It conveys wonderfully imagery—like that of Wilde in a red cape and white fedora—and a beautiful picture of the times.

How do you judge the plot of a mystery? I always find myself falling rather short here, because I don't read that many books in the genre. I've read some Agatha Christie, and, a while back, some Nancy Drew, but I just don't pick up mysteries as often as say, fantasy or sci-fi. Personally, I liked the story here—it had a satisfying conclusion and a rollicking journey to the end—but I'm not sure if I would have loved it quite as much had it not involved Oscar Wilde.

Oscar Wilde and a Game Called Murder is the second book in a series about Wilde and his friends solving mysteries. However, it stands strong independently of its companions, and offers a satisfying read to anyone who is a fan of a good mystery, of Oscar Wilde himself, or both.

Author's Website
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