Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Oscar Wilde and the Murders at Reading Gaol by Gyles Brandreth

Oscar Wilde has fled to France after his release from Reading Gaol. Tonight he is sharing a drink and the story of his cruel imprisonment with a mysterious stranger. Oscar has endured the treadmill, solitary confinement, censored letters, no writing materials. Yet even in the midst of such deprivation, his astonishing detective powers remain undiminished—and when first a brutal warder and then the prison chaplain are found murdered, who else should the governor turn to for help other than Reading Gaol’s most celebrated inmate? 

Oscar Wilde and the Murders at Reading Gaol is the sixth book in a series of Victorian murder mysteries featuring Oscar Wilde and his circle of acquaintances, family, and foes. But it is not necessary to read any of the previous books. In fact, all books in the series can be read at any order. 

Author Gyles Brandreth has successfully recreated Oscar Wilde as a charming, intelligent, and highly charming rogue with plenty of wit who loves life, and has lived well because of his great writing successes. What is genius about these books is that they closely follow the path of Wilde’s life while the author weaves in a mystery, fascinating new characters, and a gripping story-line. The time Oscar Wilde spent in gaol is brilliantly captured, along with the horrendous conditions of English gaols. Wilde suffers greatly because of the forced labor, the meager and poor quality of food, confined punishments, denial of reading and writing instruments, rampant corruption, and mysterious deaths during Wilde’s two-year imprisonment there. The story begins after his release when he is sitting at a cafĂ© in France and a stranger offers him money to tell is tale. 

I found the author’s recreation of Wilde’s character and persona extremely compelling and enjoyable. It was easy to love this fascinating character with all his mishaps and trials. This is wonderful written historical fiction, a genius blend of actual fact with a gripping story-line. I am definitely going to pursue reading other novels in the series. For more information, check out the author’s awesome and delightful website at Truly great historical fiction.

Here is a video of Oscar Wilde himself reading his poem The Ballad of Reading Gaol. While there, he was profoundly affected by the execution of a 30 year old man named Charles Thomas Wooldridge (ca. 1866 -- 7 July 1896) for the killing of his wife by slitting his throat. He wrote this poem about it. It is a living testament to the pure genius and talent of this fascinating writer.

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