Monday, 29 October 2007

Guillermo Martínez, The Oxford Murders (Abacus, 2005)

This novel is Martínez's first to be translated into English and is the winner of the Planeta Prize in Spain. Last year they filmed some of it here in Oxford and I thought I'd give it a read and see what the fuss was about. Only now I get around to it, having picked up a cheap copy at the Oxfam booksale on Saturday morning. The story revolves around an Argentinian post-doctoral student who arrives in Oxford to work with a famous maths don. He lodges with a little old lady who gets murdered and whose murder appears to be one in a series that follows a mathematical logic. Can they identify the series and predict the next murder or will the killer be too clever for them?

The maths is quite interesting, the plots has been competently sketched, apart from a clunky ending, but the characterization and writing is terrible. And I mean, really terrible. It might be a question of something being lost in translation, but the characters all lack any depth or interest. I know that often these kinds of books will rely on plot and conceit to carry them, so we're supposed to think that the maths makes up for the lack of characters. Oxford is supposed to be a wonderful setting, but unfortunately it's all a little heavy-handed, with lots of silly mistakes like porters emptying bins in dons' rooms in Merton. It felt far too like what Dan Brown did for Rome with Angels and Demons. And if the maths were done in a more clever way, he might have pulled it off. But unfortunately it is all pretty straightforward, and the maths doesn't come out of it in any mysterious way, as it should have. It seems liked a missed opportunity, and I'm afraid to say that I recommend that The Oxford Murders be your missed opportunity.

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