In Oxford, Mrs. Eagleton is found smothered in her apartment by an Argentinian graduate student and his mentor, a leading mathematics don. Arthur Seldom had been drawn to her home by a cryptic note containing her address, the time, a circle and the words “the first of the series.”
Seldom’s latest book, reflecting on the parallels between the crimes of serial killers and mathematical theorems, has drawn significant attention. He suspects the killer is challenging him to a duel of wits, taunting him to figure out the series and stop the murderer. His theory begins to carry more weight as further murders, and coded notes, are found.
The Oxford Murders is a thinking person’s whodunit. Atmospheric yet challenging, philosophical yet logical, Guillermo Martínez has crafted a mystery which, while meditating on lofty subjects, does not talk down to his readers. Even though the pace moves along rapidly, readers have time to investigate the subtleties of the relationships among the main characters.
The clearest exposition on Martínez’s main message in The Oxford Murders is found part way through the novel when Seldom, musing on the crimes and the infinite number of solutions, states: “…the known terms of a series, any number of terms, are always insufficient.” He then goes on to elaborate: “If a man is no more than the series of his actions, I realized, then he can’t be defined before his death: a single action, his last, could wipe out his previous existence, contradict his entire life…Man was no more than what I most feared.”
Guillermo Martínez has a PhD in Mathematical Science and it should be clear to readers that this watertight mystery was written by a master of maths – for two separate yet equally important reasons. First, and perhaps most importantly, the mathematical elements are described clearly and concisely, providing even a novice mathematician the opportunity to follow Seldom’s explanations.
Second, solving a crime is as methodical as proving a mathematical theorem and the best mysteries have at their core an elegantly simple solution, yet provide an array of plausible solutions. Martínez pulls together an astonishing array of clues and red herrings to create an enthrallingly complex mystery, which holds up under both logical analysis and Wittgenstein's Finite Rule Paradox.
The Oxford Murders is the first book by Guillermo Martínez to be translated into English. Sonia Soto has managed a difficult feat with grace, translating a dense mystery without losing the ease or flavour with which Martínez imbued the original Spanish. A film version, staring John Hurt and Elijah Woods, is currently in pre-production.
Publication Date: October 31, 2006
tags: books book reviews mystery Guillermo Martínez Wittgenstein's Finite Rule Paradox