In 1892 Arthur Conan Doyle, exhausted by his creation Sherlock Holmes, retires to the spa at Bad Homburg. But his rest cure does not go as planned.¬†The first person he encounters is Oscar Wilde, and when the two friends¬†make a series of macabre discoveries amongst the portmanteau of fan mail Conan Doyle has brought to answer - a severed finger, a lock of hair and finally an entire severed hand - the game is once more afoot. The trail leads to Rome, to the very heart of the Eternal City, the Vatican itself. Pope Pius IX has just died. These are¬†uncertain times. To uncover the mystery and why the creator of Sherlock Holmes has been summoned in this way, Oscar and Conan Doyle must penetrate the innermost circle of the Catholic Church - seven men who have a very great deal to lose.
Arthur Conan Doyle plays Watson to Oscar Wilde in Brandreth's strong fifth whodunit featuring Wilde as a Holmesian sleuth (after 2011's Oscar Wilde and the Vampire Murders). In July 1892, Holmes's creator runs into his friend Wilde while on holiday in a German spa town. Doyle is beside himself because of the many letters to his creation that his publisher insists must be acknowledged in writing. Wilde volunteers to help cull the correspondence, and in the process makes a grisly find a human hand cut cleanly off at the wrist. The Rome postmark leads the pair to seek out other mail from the same sender and to the discovery of a human finger addressed to Holmes. Since the ring on the severed digit bears the pope's symbols, Wilde and Doyle travel to Rome, where they learn the ring was previously owned by a priest suspected of murder. The mystery is more engaging than the previous book's, even if the solution isn't Brandreth's cleverest.