Oscar Wilde and the Murders at Reading Gaol, by Gyles Brandreth, John Murray, RRP£18.99, 352 pages
Giles Brandreth’s period series of Oscar Wilde’s criminal memoirs, cleverly mixing fiction and fact, has now reached its sixth volume and has arrived at the two years Wilde spent in the prisons that inspired his “Ballad of Reading Gaol”. Locked in a sunless cell, Wilde can only listen as a hated warder is tossed over a balcony and the prison chaplain is murdered. The whispering voice next door swears he did it all for Oscar, and promises to deliver a young abused boy, which is the last thing Oscar needs or wants.
Inevitably this outing is darker in tone than past episodes, with a few Wildean aphorisms shoehorned in to show that Oscar hasn’t lost his linguistic flair as he attempts to elicit information from his keepers. The curse of fictionalising well-known characters is having to manoeuvre within the facts, but Brandreth manages it superlatively. This is light stuff, but energetic, and Brandreth clearly has Wilde at heart.