Sunday, March 23, 2008

Oscar Wilde and the Candlelight Murders: Gyles Brandeth

I remember reading Caleb Carr’s The Italian Secretary many moons ago. It is one of the many tributes paid to the man still recognised as the first name in detective fiction. It was very difficult to take a position on the book – should you view it as Carr’s work or should you compare it with the original? Little wonder then that it was one of the few Sherlock tributes I read. Until I picked up Oscar Wilde and the Candlelight Murders recently.

What made the book intriguing enough to pick up was the combination two legendary names – the narrative is Sherlock Holmes, the detective is Oscar Wilde.

The hagiographical tone on Wilde was unmistakeable, in terms of the content and the characterisation – his famous statements, a glorification of his skills of detection, his acuity, his sangfroid. . .

The tribute to Arthur Conan Doyle is total and complete as well, in terms of the narrative style, the constant exaltation of Sherlock Holmes, the methods followed by Wilde as Sherlock, the open admission by Wilde that he is playing Sherlock, the carefully planted red herrings, the surprise denouement (except for Wilde himself, another Sherlock staple) . . . the comparisons are obvious through the book.

Which is what put me in the same position as when I was reading Caleb Carr. What am I reading (and reviewing) here? Thankfully, the Wilde part proved to be the differentiator. The insights into his character – the homosexual undertones that are fairly heavily present in the narrative and the characterisations, among other traits you read about here and there about the man – are so convincing (Gyles Brandeth is a Wilde scholar) you feel that’s about the best return you can get from the book.

So there you are, a new reason for reading crime fiction. It’s a darn sight better than reading a biography, even an unauthorised one.

On reflection, I reckon Oscar Wilde and the Candlelight Murders is not quite in the same mould as the Sherlock-in-the-hands-of-lesser-authors. A closer comparison seems to be Mathew Pearl’s first book, The Dante Club, which focused on nineteenth century Boston and a clutch of Dante scholars – Oliver Wendell Holmes, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow and James Russell Lowell – investigating a series of murders that are straight out Dante’s works. Pearl’s subsequent novel investigating the murder of Edgar Allan Poe, The Poe Shadow is another comparable piece, as is Arturo Pérez Reverte’s The Club Dumas.

Gyles Brandeth is yet another author I picked off my hat recently (along with the supremely impressive Jean-Patrick Manchette), and it wasn’t quite a waste of money, all things considered.


Melissa said...

Mystery, murder, suspense, action. All have been my favorite after reading Landmark Status. The Canlelight Murders looks like a book I could definately get into. Thank you for the suggestion.

De Scribe said...

You're welcome, Melissa.