Oscar Wilde and the Vatican Murders

Written by Gyles Brandreth
Review by Kathryn Johnson

If the first four novels of Gyles Brandreth’s series of Victorian murder mysteries had never existed to whet our appetites for another of his novels, this title would still have captured readers’ imaginations. Brandreth’s deftly plotted, entertaining escapades double as historical novels of considerable merit. They can be enjoyed by fans of both genres, ladling out just enough suspicious doings and just enough historical detail to satisfy both sorts of readers. Add to that, Brandreth’s delightful wit, and it’s a magic combination.

In his latest addition to the series starring two historical figures of the 19th century, Arthur Conan Doyle and Oscar Wilde, it’s 1892. Doyle is annoyed by his fans, or rather the fans of his star character Sherlock Holmes. Holmes has become rather an albatross to him, deterring the dour Conan Doyle from the more serious writing he’d rather pursue. Seeking rest and refuge from the public at a German spa, he runs into his old friend, the much more chipper and playful Wilde, who is up for an adventure. When they discover mysterious threatening letters amongst the collection of unanswered fan mail Conan Doyle had carried with him, and even darker items–a severed finger, lock of hair, and a mummified hand—Wilde convinces his reluctant friend to accompany him to Rome in search of clues to why they seem to have been summoned to the Vatican.

Brandreth is a deft hand at weaving plot, historical atmosphere and entertaining characters. The bonus for the reader is being invited to spend time with both the master of the mystery genre himself, A. Conan Doyle, and one of the most popular playwrights of his era, Mr. Oscar Wilde. They make congenial companions to each other and for any reader up for the traditional Sherlockian call, “The game is afoot!”