It’s easily discernible by its title that Oscar Wilde and the Vampire Murders provides mere cheap entertainment and little substance. Gyles Brandreth has written a whole series centered on Oscar Wilde solving mysteries, and judging from this one, the series has little to offer besides the fun of characterized famous figures.
The novel opens in 1890, where the Duke and Duchess of Albemarle are hosting a glamorous party. Among the guests are Oscar Wilde and journalist Robert Sherard, and they encounter Rex LaSalle, a man claiming to be a vampire. He openly declares he will kill the Duchess, yet later, when the Duchess is found dead with puncture marks on her throat, somehow it doesn’t occur to them that Rex is the culprit. Wilde and Sherard enlist the help of Sherlock Holmes creator Arthur Conan Doyle and Dracula author Bram Stoker in their convoluted journey to solve the case—yet they never even consider the glaringly obvious truths standing right in front of them. I spent a majority of the book wondering how these allegedly brilliant men can be so oblivious.
The prologue starts off intriguing enough, when Wilde, having just been released from prison (he was jailed for homosexual acts), sits down for an interview with his old friend Sherard and begins to tell the story of the vampire murders; and so begins the flashback to the party where the murder of the Duchess took place. However, this frame story does not pick up at the novel’s end, and we are left with no conclusion to the post-prison meeting between the two men. Furthermore, had Wilde’s imprisonment had something to do with the vampire murders—indeed, he was seduced by the charming Rex LaSalle—the prologue would have served some purpose to the story. As is, I found this beginning to be quite pointless, as it is not incorporated within the main plot.
The story is told through telegrams, letters, newspaper clippings and—oddly—diary entries. Apparently keeping diaries was the “it” thing in that time and place, since almost every major character keeps one and writes with painstaking detail and verbatim dialogue. Speaking of which, Wilde’s dialogue is as contrived as the action sequences of Walker, Texas Ranger. Brandreth basically put in a bunch of his famous quotes and called it dialogue. Wilde himself is characterized as so painfully cartoonish that I could barely take him seriously.
Basically, you take some historical figures—royalty, famous writers, classic stage actors here and there—add a few grisly murders, some plot holes and a handsome vampire and you’ve got Oscar Wilde and the Vampire Murders in a nutshell. If you were to read it, don’t set your standards too high. I’d recommend it for a light read at most.