I was under the impression that Brandreth's Wilde series had necessarily come to its end with the last, rather dark outing centred around his imprisonment in Reading Gaol and brief sojourn in Paris before his death. Imagine how pleased I was, then, to discover this new volume, however out of chronological sequence it may be. The story is set in 1894 (not in August-September 1888, the dates of the spree killings generally recognized to be Jack the Ripper's). The conceit is that the Ripper returns and commits at least one more murder. Brandreth's (or rather Wilde's) solution is colourful and takes us through the world of the circus, the sordid streets of London's red-light district, and a 19th-century madhouse. In a blog entry, Brandreth actually makes a claim that the solution Wilde enunciates is the correct one, and is based on new information from documents of a Brandreth forebear.
Amongst the real persons portrayed in this episode, alongside the reliable Arthur Conan Doyle, are writers Lewis Carroll and James Barrie (vignettes only), and Wilde's brother Willie and wife Constance. Hovering over all the proceedings, though only lightly suggested, is a threatening miasma of Wilde's impending doom, suggested by the continued presence of someone following him (presumably at Queensberry's behest).
Brandreth has also incorporated into this novel, as a character and a source of near-contemporary speculation about the Ripper, the policeman (later chief) Macnaghten, who was a neighbour of Wilde's and who wrote a famous report on the likely perpetrator. Wilde contemptuously dismisses Macnaghten's primary suspect, who by coincidence was contemporary of Wilde as a student, and who committed suicide suspiciously soon after the Ripper murders appeared to cease. Brandreth's fictional Wilde claims knowledge that this suspect was guilty of the lesser crime of having an affair with a boy.
Greatly enjoyed, as always.