This work is set in London, 1889. Oscar Wilde, celebrated poet, wit, playwright and raconteur is the literary sensation of his age. All Europe lies at his feet. Yet when he chances across the naked corpse of sixteen-year-old Billy Wood, posed by candlelight in a dark stifling attic room, he cannot ignore the brutal murder. With the help of fellow author Arthur Conan Doyle he sets out to solve the crime – but it is Wilde’s unparalleled access to all degrees of late Victorian life, from society drawing rooms and the bohemian demi-monde to the underclass, that will prove the decisive factor in their investigation of what turns out to be a series of brutal killings.
Review by Erastes
Knowing of Gyles Brandreth from the television and radio, I rather thought this book might be a little “sophisticated” for me. He’s a vastly intelligent man and, like Stephen Fry, he often loses me with his mind but I needn’t have worried, because The Candlelight Murders is an enjoyable – almost frothy – murder mystery of the old school and thoroughly enjoyable.
It’s obvious from the word go that Brandreth is a big fan of Oscar Wilde and he sets the scene well. The books are narrated from the Point of View of Robert Sherrad, a real life friend of Wilde’s, and right at the beginning Robert makes it clear that although he loved Oscar, he was not his lover. The narration style is worthy of Watson, bumbling a good 20 steps behind the genius of Wilde as he burns his way across the page, leaving epithets and witticisms in his wake – believably so, as Brandreth explains that he would trial his “stock phrases” on his friends and relations before using them in his published works.
Oscar is totally believable, you can almost visualise him, almost believe that Brandreth had spent time with the great man, because he’s portrayed here in all of his greatness and his ambivalence. His love for his family and his wife is clear and yet the darker side of his life is never glossed over, not completely. It is clear that Sherrad knows of his predilections and they threaten to break through at any time.
I enjoyed this particularly because I grew up with Sayers and with Christie, I love romping through a book, catching some of the same clues as the detective and feeling smug, but I also love being led down a blind alley and being throughly duped by a clever writer. This doesn’t achieve that totally, not – for example – in the same magnificence as “Ten Little Niggers” did, or “The Murder of Roger Ackroyd”, because I actually realised what was going on a couple of chapters towards the end. But it did a damned good job and once started it was impossible to put down.
The period detail is spectacularly well done, the demimonde feel of the fin-de-siecle cities, the descriptions of Oscar’s house, the dinner parties and most intriguingly the group of men who love boys is perfectly expressed. The cast of characters, ranging from the aesthetes to the grotesque as wonderfully drawn and suit the era and the darker undercurrents exactly.
Anyone who loves a good murder mystery will love this, and the homoerotic sublayers add even more flavour.