(Reviewed by J.D. Jung)
What happens when the self-indulgent, romantic poet Oscar Wilde joins the reserved and pragmatic Arthur Conan Doyle to solve a mystery at the Vatican? You get Oscar Wilde and the Vatican Murders, a fun read featuring two brilliant literary minds .
In 1892 Arthur Conan Doyle, creator of the Sherlock Holmes series, escapes to Hamburg, Germany for rest and relaxation. His vacation is short-lived as he runs into Oscar Wilde, who isn’t about to leave him alone. While going through correspondence addressed to Sherlock Holmes-yes, readers believe that he is an actual person- Doyle receives three envelopes postmarked from Rome. One contains a severed hand; another, a lock of hair and one holds a finger with a ring. Wilde witnesses these gruesome findings and believes that the ring, which has an outline of two overlapping keys, refers to the keys of Saint Peter. He persuades Doyle to immediately travel to the Vatican to solve this murder.
Actually there may not even be a murder. Maybe it’s a sick joke, a plea for help, or worse, a warning from the Mafia. In any event Oscar Wilde lets his imagination run amok and is determined to find the truth and have a good time while doing it.
Though Wilde is attentive to detail, he lets his intuition guide the investigation. It is also he, who is able to unravel most of the clues. What is interesting is that this story is from the perspective of Arthur Conan Doyle. This gives the novel an even-handed approach.
However, if you’re craving a true murder mystery with a tight plot, you will be disappointed. This novel is character-driven, not only in terms of the two protagonists themselves, but also the individuals they meet along the way. Among them are Monsignor Breakspear, former bully and classmate of Doyle; Alex “Dr. Death” Munthe-a prominent Swedish doctor, and the alluring Irene Sadler who befriends Doyle.
Oscar Wilde and the Vatican Murders is the fifth in a series of Oscar Wilde murder mysteries from author Gyles Brandreth. I haven’t read any of the others, so you don’t need to read them either in order to understand and enjoy this one. However, if they are anything like this novel, you may want to simply for the fun of it. While this is not a “thriller”, it is a fast-paced, well-written, and unique story. After all, don’t we need more of these?