Oscar Wilde and the Dead Man's Smile

A Mystery

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Playwright and raconteur Oscar Wilde embarks on another adventure as he sets sail for America in the 1880s on a roller coaster of a lecture tour. But the adventure doesn't truly begin until Oscar boards an ocean liner headed back across the Atlantic and joins a motley crew led by French impresario Edmond La Grange. As Oscar becomes entangled with the La Grange acting dynasty, he suspects that all is not as it seems. What begins with a curious death at sea soon escalates to a series of increasingly macabre tragedies once the troupe arrives in Paris to perform Hamlet. A strange air of indifference surrounds these seemingly random events, inciting Oscar to dig deeper, aided by his friends Robert Sherard and the divine Sarah Bernhardt. What he discovers is a horrifying secret -- one that may bring him closer to his own last chapter than anyone could have imagined.

As intelligent as it is beguiling, this third installment in the richly historical mystery series is sure to captivate and entertain.
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  • Touchstone | 
  • 400 pages | 
  • ISBN 9781416987208 | 
  • September 2009
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Read an Excerpt

Prologue
London, Christmas 1890


“Do you recognise him?”

“I’m not sure.”

“He has the look of a murderer, has he not?”

“Do you think so?”

“Yes, I do. It’s his smile, Robert. Never trust a man who shows you his lower teeth when he smiles.”

“But the poor wretch is dead, Oscar.”

“The rule applies, nevertheless.”

“And this is just a waxwork.”

“But it was sculpted from life, Robert, or, at least, directly from the cadaver. It’s a point of honour with the... see more
1
America


On 24 December 1881 Oscar Wilde set sail for the United States of America. He went in search of adventure and gold. Within weeks, he had found a portion of both.

Oscar had recently turned twenty-seven and, in England, his claim to fame was that he was famous for being famous. He was a celebrity, in the tradition of Lord Byron and Beau Brummell, but more Brummell than Byron, more style than substance. “Evidently I am ‘somebody,’” he noted at the time, “but what have I done? I’ve been ‘noticed.’ That is something, I suppose. And I have published one book of poems.... see more

Reading Group Guide

This reading group guide for Oscar Wilde and the Dead Man’s Smile includes discussion questions and a Q&A with author Gyles Brandreth. The suggested questions are intended to help your reading group find new and interesting angles and topics for your discussion. We hope that these ideas will enrich your conversation and increase your enjoyment of the book.



For discussion

1. As a reader, what were your first feelings toward Eddie Garstrang? What were your first impressions of Edmond La Grange? How did your emotions toward these characters change throughout the book? What were major turning points for you?

2. Oscar Wilde and the Dead Man’s Smile is set in America, London, and Paris. Each of these places has unique characteristics, but all share some general similarities. How are these places similar and different?

3. What was the effect of reading the story through Robert’s eyes? How would it have been different if Oscar had done the narrating?

4. Oscar writes in his journal of Madame La Grange, “Old age has no consolations to offer us. The pulse of joy that beats in us at twenty has become sluggish. Limbs fail, senses rot. We degenerate into hideous puppets, haunted by the memories of the passions of which we were too much afraid, and the exquisite temptations that we had not the courage to yield to” (page 47). Do you agree with his harsh words about old see more

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