The Oxford Murders by Guillermo Martínez

As you might guess from its title, this novel is set in Oxford and it’s about a series of murders. The narrator, a young Argentinian mathematician (whose name we don’t learn, only know that it contains a double ’l’ which makes it hard to pronounce for several people – so we might as well surmise that the name is „Guillermo”) arrives in Oxford on a one-year scholarship to study mathematical theory, but his attention to his studies soon flags for two reasons. One of these is that our hero quickly finds a girlfriend and spends his time with her instead of studying hard, and the other is that he becomes entangled in a strange murder case which seems to be the first in a series. The narrator then proceeds with the help of Arthur Seldom, the famous mathematician, to investigate the case and tries to find out how the clues left by the murderer, which are elements in a mathematical series, are connected with the individual cases in the murder series.

The most interesting feature of this novel is the narrator’s character and the role he plays in the novel. On the one hand, our hero is a typical cool guy, a Latin macho who is so charming and impetuous that he seems to be able to captivate the hearts of half the women in Oxford in a moment. Based on his age and his behavior, he – and not the considerably older Seldom – should be the supersleuth who solves the mysteries, but our young hero doesn’t seem to be a particularly apt detective, he never realizes anything on his own and it takes him quite a lot of time to find the solution. So if we read The Oxford Murders as a typical hero-and-his-sidekick story, we have to realize that the protagonist fits the role of the sidekick much better than the role of the hero.

This playful reversal is not the only interesting feature in the novel, however. As the author is a mathematician, the protagonists are mathematicians and it seems that the murderer has something to do with mathematics as well, it’s probably no surprise that the novel contains quite a lot of mathematical-philosophical ruminations. But don’t worry – they are understandable, enjoyable and thought-provoking, and they go only so deep as not to frighten away a reader like me who only likes to admire mathematics from a safe distance. Martínez doesn’t scare his readers with actual calculations and formulas but manages to show some of the beauty of mathematics.

And one more thing which makes this novel stand out from the mass of crime stories: the way Martínez depicts Oxford. He creates the atmosphere of the ancient, peaceful university town astonishingly well, and he easily makes the reader visualize a world where people don’t hang curtains on their windows and don’t lock their front doors because they have nothing to hide – but where they still live a life full of emotions and passions behind the facade of a calm, „typically English” way of life.

And after all, this clever but not too demanding novel is exactly about emotions and passions. Served with a lot of mathematics.

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