Saturday, May 25, 2013

Oscar Wilde and the Murders at Reading Gaol-Gyles Brandreth

Oscar Wilde and the Murders at Reading Gaol

Gyles Brandreth

Touchstone, May 14 2013, $16.00

ISBN 9781439153758

In 1895 London, Mr. Justice Wills sentences noted playwright Oscar Wilde to two years of hard labor for gross indecency with young men. While forty year old Oscar head to jail, his wife and two kids flee England and the scandal for the continent, and the production of the Importance of being Earnest continues on stage.

His time in Wandsworth Prison is physically and mentally hell; made worse by his wife’s forgiveness visit and the knowledge that he is financially broke. Just before his transfer to Reading Gaol, Warder Braddle comes to his cell in a rage, blaming him for his diseased body just before he dies. In Reading Gaol, Wilde learns of another Warder dying violently. Soon afterward others die so the Governor asks Wilde to look into the Murders at Reading Gaol.

The latest late Oscar Wilde Victorian mystery (see Oscar Wilde and the Vampire Murders, and Oscar Wilde and the Vatican Murders) may be the best in the series, but not because of the clever whodunit. Instead Gyles Brandreth provides a deep look into the two years of Wilde’s torturous incarceration and a powerful condemnation of the British gaol in the last decade of the nineteenth century. Wilde’s murder inquiry is terrific but it is the jailhouse that rocks.

Harriet Klausner

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