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Oscar Wilde and the Dead Man's Smile.

Oscar Wilde might seem an unusual hero for a mystery. But as he says frequently in the third entry in this series, "the eye is the notebook of the poet--and the detective." Taking place primarily from 1881 to 1883, during Wilde's American tour and subsequent visit to France, this novel depicts the end of the La Grange acting dynasty. Edmund, the patriarch, meets Wilde on the boat returning to Europe, and hires him to work on their production of Hamlet. However, four murders among the cast and crew threaten the performance. The first, of Wilde's former valet, prompts him to investigate. Many secrets are uncovered, especially concerning Edmund's talented children. Despite the violence and dark subject matter, the novel is full of humor. Wilde finds many occasions to make some of his famous quips during the course of his investigation. His famous line "I have nothing to declare except my genius" becomes a running joke, with variations uttered to customs officials throughout his travels. One curious aspect of the book is that while it makes no mention of Wilde's homosexuality, he enjoys many habits characteristic of today's gay men. These include his wearing of flamboyant clothing, copious alcohol consumption, frequenting risque nightclubs and bars, and even partaking of brunch. By novel's end, Wilde appears to have solved the murders and even cleared the name of an innocent man. Yet the epilogue reveals a twist that throws everything into doubt, offering a disturbing but credible alternative solution. Oscar Wilde and the Dead Man's Smile is an engaging, well-researched mystery, with a clever plot and large cast of famous characters, including Sarah Bernhardt, James Russell Lowell, and Arthur Conan Doyle.

by Gyles Brandreth

Touchstone. 365 pages, $14.
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Author:Green, Charles
Publication:The Gay & Lesbian Review Worldwide
Article Type:Book review
Date:May 1, 2010
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