Oscar Wilde and the Murders at Reading Gaol
This sixth Oscar Wilde mystery is set largely during Wilde’s infamous period of imprisonment between 1895-1897, after he was sentenced to hard labor for “gross indecency.” He begins his incarceration in Wandsworth prison, where he is brutalized by a warden – until the man bursts into his cell one night and drops dead. Death follows Wilde’s transfer to Reading Gaol, when another cruel warden is pushed from a balcony. One inmate confesses to the authorities, but another secretly claims responsibility and uses his reason to blackmail Wilde. But is either truly the murderer? Wilde’s intuitive powers, along with skills of deductive reasoning honed by his past friendship with Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, are put to the test as he tries to uncover the real killer.
Gyles Brandreth’s Oscar Wilde mysteries have been on my “to read” list for a while, so I was pleased to receive this review book. I was not disappointed. The plot is complex, the cast of characters wide-ranging and entertaining, and the prose a perfect fin-de-siècle tone. Through the eyes of Wilde, we see firsthand the reactions of a man thrust into the horrors of the Victorian penal system: from despair and self-loathing to desperate attempts to retain something of his former identity when reduced to nothing but a number behind a mask.
I ordered another book in the series before I had finished reading this one. I would give it my top rating: a satisfying read.