A serial killer appears to be on the loose in the historic university city of Oxford, England, but who is he (or she) and what is his (or her) motive? These are the central questions of The Oxford Murders, a murder mystery novel written by the Argentinean author, Guillermo Martínez, and translated into English by Sonia Soto.
Unlike many novels of the same genre, The Oxford Murders is not written from the point of view of the person investigating the murders. The nameless narrator is a young Argentinean graduate student of mathematics who arrives in Oxford only to find that his landlady, Mrs. Eagleton, dies in mysterious circumstances within a few weeks. He then becomes fascinated by the events that follow.
Before Mrs. Eagleton’s death, a cryptic note warning that something sinister may happen was left with an eminent mathematician, Arthur Seldom, at the University of Oxford. The note included a symbol, which appears to perplex both the mathematicians and the police. They fear that the symbol may be the first in a sequence.
Their fears appear to be well-founded when, soon after, another message containing another symbol is left and another death follows. However, the murderer appears to act differently from other serial killers because the deaths could not be considered to be cold-blooded and may even be described as mercy killings.
Is the murderer perhaps challenging Arthur Seldom, whose latest book on logic includes a chapter on serial murders? Could the killer be a former student who believes that his work was not adequately recognized as significant in the field of mathematics? Or, perhaps the nurse who is fascinated by crime fiction has decided to commit a series of “perfect” murders.
After two more incidents take place, the novel reaches its conclusion. However, the conclusion is not what it appears to be. There is a twist in the tale near the end of the novel. Even on the last page, the reader is left wondering what other secrets remain hidden below the surface, so much so that he or she may be encouraged to play detective and look for clues that may uncover other secrets.
The Oxford Murders is a book that can be enjoyed on several different levels. The city of Oxford provides a lively backdrop for the novel and, from that point of view, it is reminiscent of the Oxford-based Inspector Morse novels by the British author, Colin Dexter. However, places and landmarks in Oxford are not described in detail and the author assumes a familiarity with Oxford which many readers will not have.
The description of the narrator’s arrival in Oxford as a young student will be appreciated by anyone who has studied at a university, especially in an overseas country.
The book contains discussions of mathematical theories. However, readers with limited mathematical knowledge should not be deterred from reading the book because the expositions are not too complicated and should be fairly comprehensible to the average reader. Readers with a deeper interest in mathematics may gain more insight from the mathematical aspects of the book, whose author has a doctorate in Mathematical Science.
Avid readers of detective novels will enjoy The Oxford Murders because it has extra dimensions that do not appear in many similar novels. It asks questions about the way in which people perceive patterns and it shows that even intelligent people can be fooled by sequences that appear to be logical.
Published by Abacus Books in the UK in 2005 and by Penguin in the USA in 2006, The Oxford Murders is a multi-faceted novel that should appeal to a wide range of readers. Few of the author’s works are available in English, so The Oxford Murders provides a rare opportunity for English speakers to sample his work.
Adam Quirk is a criminal justice professional with an MBA, as well as a seasoned private investigator from Wisconsin.