A flight of imagination that partners Oscar Wilde with Arthur Conan Doyle in a deadly pursuit to the heart of the Eternal City merits a round of applause for sheer chutzpah.
But it is one thing to set up an improbably tall tale and quite another to sustain reader interest and credulity for an entire book. Where many others have failed the test, Gyles Brandreth succeeds magnificently.
This is partly because the relationship between the two writers - with Conan Doyle playing Watson to super sleuth Wilde - is drawn so convincingly, but there is also dialogue of the period without any Victorian heaviness and a plot that is intriguing throughout.
Made rich and famous by Sherlock Holmes, Conan Doyle is taking a holiday in a German spa town when he encounters his old friend. Together they tackle the sack of mail Conan Doyle has with him only to discover that among the tributes is a package containing an embalmed human hand.
Since it was sent from Rome it is to Rome that they decide to go, a journey that embroils them in Vatican politics at the highest level as they detect their way to discovering just who has been murdered and why.
Brandreth’s research is impeccable. Literary and theological references merge easily into a skilfully crafted story that goes all the way to meet the standards set by his two eminent protaganists.