Tuesday, 30 May 2017

Jack The Ripper Case Closed.

You would not think he had it in him. Gyles Brandreth, the constantly smiling whimsical television presenter and BBC One show edu-tainer. He has written a compulsive page turner of a novel involving Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Oscar Wilde trying to fill a Jack The ripper shaped hole in the fabric of London history. the rock steady Doyle and the mercurial Wilde make a an eccentric team but each balances the excesses of the other, one bound in tradition the other unfettered. In this writers hands both characters emerge fully formed and delightfully believable. Sometimes fictions involving actual historical figures can feel forced or little more than wishful fan writing( although the love of fans is generally a pure and generous thing and should never be taken for granted.) stiff and un-witty.
unthinkable in the context of bringing Oscar Wilde back to life. Written badly he could become a pretentious bore or the person at a party you never wish to come into earshot off., not the case here at all. He is compelling on different levels, interesting even when not speaking and when not in the thick of things the reader cannot help but wonder what he is off doing. gyles Brandreth writes Doyle as an easily likable man, who is temperate in all things, the man one would gravitate towards if insearch of a trust worthy companion or a friend for life. Yet one of the most surprising and enjoyable aspects of the book is how Constance Wilde is treated. Oscar's long suffering and utterly devoted wife  comes to the fore in the most splendid of fashions. this was an insightful decision to bring her to the fore if for no other reason than to foreshadow the oncoming tragedy in their lives. While history never revealed the identity of The Ripper it has almost gloatingly recorded the fall from grace of this most talented and colourful of Victorian Icons.
              It must be so tempting for a writer on a book like this to include all the prime movers in an event or a series of events such as the Ripper killings. Some literary excuse could be found to bring all the characters together even if it makes no historical sense. Gyles Brandreth tastefully avoids this and only has his characters rub elbows with other Victorian luminaries when it would actually be quite possible to do so. There are no instances of Wilde and Doyle enjoying a bounce on a Victorian trampoline only to have all the Ripper suspects using the trampoline next to them. Not that Trampolining had any social currency back then. I was just considering an unlikely set of Victorian variables. Imagine a detective story set in mid-eighties London when Boy George and Morrissey attempt to solve a mystery when they bump into all of the musicians and "celebrities" of that era (I include the italics as the word celebrity meant something different in that period than it does now.)
bumping into Margaret Thatcher, Mohammed Ali, Roger Moore, Bob Geldof, Neil Kinnock, Colin Baker and ..er, The Queen Mother.  The writer would then awkwardly and unconvincingly to crowbar them all together at Peter Stringfellows with Stock, Aiken and Waterman providing the soundtrack. Like a game of Cluedo played by the cast of the latest Hello Magazine. It would have rung out from the pages as so untrue. Like the Belles Of Notre Dame ringing out at the height of The Festival Of Fools.Not so with Case Closed. Any such encounters are tastefully crafted and entirely plausible.
               "I am not a detective" says Wilde at one point to Police Chief Mc Naughten.
               "No, but you are a poet, a Freemason and a man of the world. All useful qualifications for the business at hand.
                Stuck with a mystery with no solution in sight Chief Constable Mc Naughton desperately seeks a fresh perspective on the grimmest of crimes. and while Gyles Brandreth is not the first author to seek to provide an answer to that bloody riddle he has come up with an entertaining and thought provoking fictional explanation. Which of course is perhaps the most we can hope for after all these years of misinformation and colorful speculation.
                 It is just generally they are not as fantastically engaging as this one.