(Reviewed by JD Jung)
Mathematicians collide with murder and mayhem in Guillermo Martínez’s thriller, The Oxford Murders. An un-named young Argentinean graduate student goes to Oxford University to study mathematics. One evening, he returns to the house where he’s renting a room and finds Arthur Seldom, a leader in the field of logic, waiting outside. They enter together, only to find the landlady, Mrs. Eagleton, dead, apparently from suffocation. The obvious suspect is a family member, until Seldom mentions that he received a hand-written note in his office mailbox with the message “The first of the series,” with Mrs. Eagleton’s address and the time of day. Underneath the words in the note is a large circle. Seldom explains that he wrote a book on logical series and included a chapter on the logical thought process of serial killers. If the note is just the first in a series, it sure isn’t enough to solve the murder.
Subsequent murders are preceded by a note to Seldom, each with another symbol. Is each symbol, or the series, connected to the killer’s choice of victims or method of murder? The only common thread seems to be that the victims appear to be terminally ill. Can the student and Arthur Seldom solve the sequence before the next murder? Is the killer trying to use these murders to demonstrate a mathematical theorem? Is he/she attempting to challenge Seldom on his own theories on logic?
Guillermo Martínez holds a PhD in mathematical science and taught at the University of Buenos Aires. Though he’s written several novels and short stories, this is his first book translated in English. He explains to the reader such principles as Gödel’s Incompleteness Theorem, Wittgenstein’s Finite Rule Paradox, and Ockham’s razor. But even non-math-minded readers like me, who barely passed high school geometry, will enjoy perusing the theorems in an attempt to solve the murders. However, I wish that Martínez had put more effort into developing his characters than he did in clarifying these theorems and philosophies. Yes, the fact that “The Pythagoreans believed in the transmigration of souls” is interesting, but so would have been the exploration of the psyche of the principle players. He explains their motivations but only to the extent that they pertain to their actions.
Nevertheless, this short novel is an enjoyable, fast-paced read. Martínez takes great pains to guide readers in a multitude of directions without confusing them. Clues that seem pertinent my not be, while events that appear to be extraneous may be vital to the solution of the case. Just make sure that you consider all of the facts.
(Original review published on www.nightsandweekends.com)