Monday, December 26, 2011

A Good Murder Mystery Can Be Hard to Find (but Martinez Wrote a Fun One).

Martinez, Gulliermo. The Oxford Murders. Trans. Sonia Soto. Penguin, 2006.

Set, as the title indicates, in the town of Oxford, UK, Martinez' The Oxford Murders is the story of a young mathematician who takes up residence in that university town only to find himself entangled in a series of murders. This unnamed maths student, working with a renowned mathematician named Arthur Seldom, is encouraged by his mentor to use truths about logic and sequences (among other things) to unravel the mystery transpiring around him. Add in a few pretty girls who challenge and intrigue our scholarly protagonist, and, well, that's the recipe for a unique but comprehensible murder mystery.

I am no maths student myself, but The Oxford Murders provides a clear and interesting introduction to some fascinating mathematical concepts, occasionally encouraging the reader to solve the puzzles along with the protagonist; I particularly enjoyed these mental challenges. More importantly, however, the plot of The Oxford Murders is filled with twists and revelations that would do Agatha Christie proud; the reveal at the end is perfectly crafted and, of course, entirely logical. The pieces are all present, but the structure (and the sequence, of course!) show us, as with the sequence Seldom draws for his protege to solve early in the novel, only what we are meant to see.

Martinez' novel, elegantly translated into English by Sonia Soto, offers a splendid story, clear and interesting, with a few brain teasers thrown into the mix. It is a fresh and engaging re-interpretation of the murder mystery genre, and I'm delightfully pleased to be able to recommend it so warmly. Even had I read more than one book in December, this one would still have been a strong contender for my favourite book of the month.