Click here to read reviewer Sonali T. Sikchi's take on The Oxford Murders.
Martinez mixes mathematics and murder mystery in a clever way.
While itís not necessary to know mathematical theory to read the book,
mathematicians can certainly get more out of it. Most of the theories
are explained along the way, and those who don't have any interest in
higher mathematics might find it a little tedious, although the
explanations are brief.
The main character is a young Argentinian mathematician who arrives to stay at
Oxford for a year. Soon his landlady is murdered in a strange manner,
and he finds himself near the center of a mysterious series of
murders. The serial killer has sent a note to Arthur Seldom, a
famous mathematician and friend of the landlady's family. The note
contains the date and a symbol of a circle. One chapter of Seldomís book
on math discusses how mathematics
could be related to serial killers. That chapter is believed to be the
reason why someone would challenge Seldom to solve a mathematical
murder mystery. Seldom takes the main character under his wing, and
together the two mathematicians try to solve the mystery before more
The main character is quite a colorless man. We don't find out much
about him; even his name seems to be too difficult for the British
to pronounce, so it's never revealed. Seldom comes across as cold, more interested in solving the intellectual puzzle
of the symbols connected to the murders than actually saving lives. Police inspector Petersen, portrayed as somewhat unable to think outside the typical police-procedural box, seems more like a real person than Seldom. Only two other characters are seen more than once: Beth, the
landlady's granddaughter, and Lorna, the main character's tennis
partner and a nurse, who quickly becomes his lover. With her interest
in crime fiction and unrevealed history with some other characters,
Lorna feels more flesh and blood than any of the other characters.
Martinez writes from the first person point-of-view, allowing him to leave his main character vague while letting the reader
identify with him easily. On the other hand, the character is
not a memorable one.
Martinezís style conjures more the gentlemanly atmosphere of Conan
Doyle or Agatha Christie than the more modern style, where the
protagonist is often in personal danger. There is an absence of
urgency, and any tension is an abstract worry for the next possible
victim or outwitting the killer. Martinez also makes some interesting and
funny observations about the British from a foreigner's point of view.
Sonia Soto's translation is first-class. The translation is in clear
British English, and there is no sign of the Spanish word orders.