The Oxford Murders; Pleasant but not Compelling

I picked up The Oxford Murders, by Guillermo Martinez, at Mockingbird Books. It was an impulse buy, one of the days I was working there. I swear some days I buy more than I shelve. Anyway, I liked the title; the cover made me curious and the back cover sounded like a good murder mystery with a bit of a twist; an Argentinian writer with an Argentinian character, studying mathematics in Oxford, gets caught up in a series of murders.

The book is well-written and ably translated by Sonia Soto. The discussion about mathematics, especially the Fermat’s Theorum, is great. Interesting how this has seized the imaginations of writers. Martinez addresses it and Steig Larsson has his crime-fighter character, Lizbeth Salander, solve it (shortly before she gets shot in the head and forgets the solution).

The mystery, though, is threadbare and transparent. That disappointed me, and made our viewpoint character seem a little bit dim, despite his mathematics scholarship. The book is mostly about discussions between our narrator and the brilliant logician who works with the police to solve the murders. I felt like the book brimmed with missed opportunities, like the first murder victim, who mentions in passing that she entered a crossword contest as a young woman, and ended up at Turing’s code-breaking estate during WWII. Instead of endless theorizing, more could have been spent on that.

This is not a book to seek out, but it would nice to have it in your backpack or purse (or in your car) if you are planning a trip, or expect to have to wait somewhere. It is a pleasant way to spend a few hours.

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