The Dead Assassin by Vaughn Entwhistle

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The Dead Assassin by Vaughn Entwhistle

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Category: Crime (Historical)
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: Luke Marlowe
Reviewed by Luke Marlowe
Summary: Arthur Conan Doyle and Oscar Wilde are a crime solving duo investigating mysterious happenings in a murky, dangerous Victorian London. What's not to like? A fun, thrilling and witty read.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 336 Date: June 2015
Publisher: Titan Books
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 978-1783292684

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London, 1895. Arthur Conan Doyle is summoned to the scene of a mysterious crime – a senior member of the Government lies murdered. Close by, the body of the attacker is found, riddled with bullets. The dead assassin is identified, however, as a man who was hanged several weeks previously. Mystified by the strange incident, Arthur Conan Doyle calls on a friend for advice – Oscar Wilde. Together, the two of them are swept up into a bizarre investigation – one that threatens their lives, their families, and the very establishment itself. It seems that someone is reanimating corpses, and programming them for murder…

At first glance, this may seem a strange mix of concepts – the serious looking Conan Doyle with the famously funny and flighty Wilde, and the world of literary London combined with the strange and supernatural. In truth though, all make a lot of sense! Wilde and Conan Doyle met at a dinner in 1889, at a dinner held by a publisher, hoping to get work out of the two (then young) men. The dinner was a roaring success – and led to the publication of Conan Doyle's Sign of Four, and Wilde's Picture of Dorian Gray – so it's a dinner British literature owes rather a lot to. Apparently Wilde and Conan Doyle got along swimmingly – so their fictionalised friendship isn't completely out of the blue.

In addition, the links to the supernatural are also strong. Wilde never shied away from using aspects of the supernatural and unexplained in his work, and neither did Conan Doyle. An early interest in spiritualism led to an obsession in later life for Conan Doyle – with a dive into depression cured by a new drive for exploring spiritualism, Conan Doyle became an outspoken and very public face for the Spiritualist movement, rather memorably championing the (sadly fake) Cottingley Fairies photographs.

Whilst Gyles Brandreth has been writing books in a similar vein for some years – he's currently on the eight novel of his Oscar Wilde Mysteries, Vaughn Entwhistle is writing books of an altogether different tone, and his focus falls far more on Conan Doyle. This is a cracking read, with a strong mystery, excellent action, and well portrayed characters – both Conan Doyle and Wilde feel both real, and true to the characters that they are remembered as. Whilst the start is a little slow, the excitement and tension ramp up to electrifying effect, and by about halfway through, I was unable to put this book down. The elements of the supernatural add rather than detract from the story, and some parts are genuinely chilling and unsettling – but any uncomfort is quickly replaced by warm familiarity as Conan Doyle and Wilde arrive on the scene.

With a truly likeable detective duo, a very strong plot and a marvellous grasp of characterisation, The Dead Assassin is a marvellous read. I'm very much looking forward to the next in the series, so many thanks to the publishers for the copy.

For further reading, I would absolutely recommend The Axeman's Jazz by Ray Celestin – a seamless blend of both True Crime and Historical Fiction, with a fantastically vivid picture of New Orleans in the early 20th Century.

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