dozen years ago, a graduate of the University of Buenos Aires
eagerly followed his scholarship money to Oxford to spend a year at
the Mathematical Institute. As luck would have it, he found rooms
to let in the home of widowed Mrs. Eagleton. All seemed to be going
well in the first few weeks of his residency, but then his landlady
turned up dead, murdered as she languished on her chaise lounge.
The young student was the unfortunate discoverer of Mrs. Eagleton's
body, along with the renowned logician Arthur Seldom, who showed up
on the doorstep just as the student was ringing Mrs. Eagleton's
doorbell. They summon the authorities.
Once the police arrive, Seldom recounts the delivery of a strange
note to his cubbyhole at the Institute, stating "The first of the
series" with a symbol and a time written on it. Seldom, naturally,
tries to puzzle it out, attempting to discern what the next symbol
might be if their dark suspicions are correct, for of course they
all fear that a serial killer has just begun his deadly work.
Before they are able to see the direction he may be going, another
body and note show up --- "The second of the series." Seldom
challenges the student to find the solution, even as he himself
seems to harbor an inkling as to the logical next symbol. But even
if they know the next in the series, how can they know to whom it
Inspector Peterson happily enlists Seldom's aid, along with that of
the student. He asks, "Do you think this person is a
Seldom replies, "No, not necessarily...it could be a symbol from
some esoteric cult, or ancient religion or something else entirely.
An astrologer might have seen a full moon or...." The possibilities
begin to seem innumerable, but as we know, with math involved, the
answer will almost certainly be provable.
Then, when a third note is found at a concert where one of the
performers dies on stage before a stunned audience, the police
become convinced they are dealing with a highly cunning and
exceptionally brilliant murderer. Inspector Peterson ratchets up
the pressure on Seldom to figure out the next probable sign before
the killer strikes again.
Unfortunately, they sit in numbed horror as the fourth in the
series brings the awful truth to light. With the murderer exposed,
they cannot help but wish that they had been able to stop it. But
even with the explanation finally out, there is another astounding
--- and surprising --- ending.
Written with an intelligent wit, THE OXFORD MURDERS adds up to a
small book with a big punch.
Reviewed by Kate Ayers on January 14, 2011