The Oxford Murders, by Guillermo Martinez

It’s a good thing that Guillermo Martinez’s mystery The Oxford Murders was only 200 pages long, seeing as I had to read half of it twice (and I suspect I’m not the only one). Mr. Martinez is all too willing to embrace big words, obscure metaphors, and complicated mathematical references. Happily, his elegantly wrought whodunit is entertaining enough to hook readers, despite his fondness for words like "promulgated" and offhand references to stuff like Fermat's last theorem.

The Oxford Murders is told from the perspective of a nameless Argentinean graduate student, visiting England on a yearlong scholarship. Soon after his arrival, his landlady is found murdered in her parlor. The only clue to her death is a note sent to the famous logician Arthur Seldom. The letter reads “the first of a series” and is marked with a circle. Additional murders (and creepy notes) follow, and it becomes obvious that the killer is less interested in his victims than he is in illustrating a bizarre mathematical theorem.

SPOILERS AHEADplease consider yourself warned! I’m not telling you who the murderer is, but I AM discussing a specific plot point that bothered me throughout the novel.

Martinez is primarily a mathematician, and it shows: The Oxford Murders has some flaws that a conventional mystery writer might have avoided. I found Arthur Seldom’s character particularly tough to swallow. Seldom turns up at the first murder scene, claiming that he was sent a note indicating that something was going to happen at the victim's address at a specific time. As the other murders are discovered, he continues to produce notes, all of which turn up in mysterious ways. Martinez is careful to justify each scenario, but the whole thing rang false—if I were a detective, and some dude kept popping in with anonymous letters about various murders, I’d be checking out his alibi very, very closely, not asking him for crime-fighting help.

Implausible behavior remained a minor irritant, but Martinez's story was interesting enough that I was willing to overlook it. The Oxford Murders is first and foremost a well-written, neatly crafted mystery (even if it does feature discussion of Wittgenstein’s finite rule paradox), and it’s clear that telling an entertaining story, not academic grandstanding, was Martinez’s top priority.
Posted by: Julia, Last edit by: Julianka


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