Oscar Wilde Mystery

Posted: August 1, 2009 in Ramblings
I just finished reading "Oscar Wilde and the Dead Man’s Smile" for Amazon Vine, and I reviewed it.  I can’t put spoilers in my review, so I’m going to load up this post with issues that may contain spoilers, just so I can get things off my chest.
1. Garstang’s appearance on the boat.  Oscar says, "What the devil are you doing here?" to his acquaintance Garstang, and it is explained to him that La Grange "won" the services of Garstang over several nights of card-playing, where Garstang lost over and over again.  However, when Oscar first met Garstang (several months previously), the latter boasted to Oscar that he was a crack shot and a crack card player.  So when we hear this story of La Grange beating him over, and over, and over, in cards, to the point where the only choices Garstang had were suicide or working for La Grange to pay off the debt, it seems mightily suspicious.  I also wondered if this were some personal vendetta of Garstang versus Oscar, and that the crack shot had conceived of this bizarre method of getting near our hero.
2.  When the second character is found dead, there is a kerfuffle, and the doctor is called.  This is the doctor’s first appearance in the book.  At the close of the scene, loads of people are standing around, and we clearly hear the doctor say to La Grange, "I’ll take care of it – as always."  Doesn’t this seem suspicious?  No reference is ever made to this comment, and in fact, it had nothing at all to do with any of the story.  It seemed like a crazy suspicious comment to put in there, making me very leery of the doctor/La Grange combo, and made me think that Sherard was a bit of an idiot for not following up on it.  If Sherard & Oscar had examined it and gone off on this tangent it would have made sense, but they didn’t.  Might as well have not had the comment there.
Serious spoiler below…although I tried to write it ambiguously, so that you won’t understand it if you haven’t read the book.
3.  During the recap at the end, Oscar talks about the killings being tied together by the four elements (death #1 by earth, death #2 by air, death #3 by water, death #4 by fire).  He has mentioned this earlier in the book also.  Now, death #1 took place on the boat returning from America.  There was no real motive for this death except to have a death by earth.  Deaths #2, 3 and 4 all had real motives, but these motives were not unveiled (to readers or to the killer) until about the second third of the book.  So, why, or how, did the series of four elemental killings start with the pointless earth killing, when as far as anyone knew, there were no reasons to perform the other three "elemental" killings?  Are we supposed to believe that three random people would have been killed just for the hell of it, to complete the elements, but that serendipitously, three motives are discovered for three other killings?  Difficult.
Anyway, you may think from this that I disliked the book.  This is not true!  I liked it a lot.  It reminded me of Louis Bayard’s "The Pale Blue Eye" (Poe doing detective work at West Point), although I did feel Bayard’s work was much stronger and rewarding overall.  Perhaps this is because my copy of "Wilde" is an advance copy, not very well-proofread, and in sort of large type.  It didn’t seem as serious of a book.
The author is Gyles Brandreth, who wrote the wonderful "Joy of Lex" that Jeannie and I used to pore over, back in the day…

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