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by Guillermo Martinez
Penguin, September 2006
208 pages
ISBN: 014303796X

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

A young Argentine graduate student, who is at Oxford to do research, is living off campus in a private home. One afternoon, he discovers his landlady dead in the front parlor. This elderly woman was in poor health with a limited time left to leave, and had no enemies. The police are baffled by the murder, as they can find no reason behind it.

Arthur Seldom, a well-known logician, believes that this murder is merely the first of several. Seldom received a taunt from the killer indicating that more deaths will follow this one. In one of Seldom's books, he devoted a chapter to serial killers in which he explained the 'logic' behind their actions. This chapter has resulted in numerous letters from the less stable members of society.

For this reason Seldom is not surprised by the letter or its contents. When a second murder does occur, the police become more interested in Seldom's theories. Together Seldom and our protagonist must work together to catch the killer before it is too late.

THE OXFORD MURDERS is told by first person narrative. While this makes the book appealing as all of the protagonist's actions are well documented and explained, it does have flaws as well. Since the protagonist controls the direction of the narrative, it almost feels as though certain vital clues are being left out.

In addition, he is attempting to understand and investigate a culture in which he is not familiar. Another drawback and the most problematic for me is that the protagonist does not have a name. This lack of name causes him to lack identity and a role in society. He is merely defined by his academic career instead of his personality and thoughts. His lack of self makes it harder to care about him as a character and as a storyteller.

I am not a huge fan of first person narratives for the reasons mentioned above, but this stylistic device is useful in THE OXFORD MURDERS. The math student is out of his depth and trying to find his role within a culture not his own. He is also one of the primary investigators for the murders so his story is an important one. In addition, his confusion regarding these murder investigations echoes my confusion dealing with the mathematical theories explained in this book. Math has never been my favorite subject and reading about mathematical theories and possibilities, regardless of how much they are simplified, is still frustrating.

Overall THE OXFORD MURDERS is an enjoyable book to read. It is possible to follow the mathematical arguments and see how they play out in the story without fully comprehending them. It is also possible to accept the protagonist even though he is nameless. As the story is well written and well plotted, albeit somewhat on the cozy side, these traits compensate for many of the faults I noticed above.

Reviewed by Sarah Dudley, November 2006

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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