One evening, after searching through the movies on-demand to find something that interested both my movie-watching companion and me, we settled on the film adaptation of The Oxford Murders, starring Elijah Wood and John Hurt. While I liked the movie, I had a few quibbles with it and thought it made some jumps not based in logic or weren’t believable on screen.
It wasn’t until the end credits rolled that I realized the film is based on a novel written by Guillermo Martinez. Since my local library has the book in their collection I knew The Oxford Murders would make an excellent second book for my fifty-two books in one-year challenge.
In The Oxford Murders, a twenty-two year old Argentinean (American in the film) receives a scholarship to study moths at Oxford. His academic advisor recommends he take a room with the widow of her former academic advisor, and so he does. His landlady, a former Enigma code breaker, lives in Oxford with her granddaughter. She’s obsessed with Scrabble and makes him feel welcome. The granddaughter, Beth, and the narrator are attracted to each other but this is never acted upon.
The narrator slowly builds a life in Oxford, working with his advisor and making a few friends through tennis. Then he comes home one day after hitting up the bank so he can pay rent. Professor Seldom, a well-known mathematician and long-time friend of the household, is also arriving at the house. They find the landlady murdered.
Seldom tells police he received a note earlier in the day that read “the first of the series”, and gave him the address of his friend (but no name). There was a circle drawn on the bottom of the note.
More notes appeared, all attached to murders and containing the next symbol in the series. Can Seldom and the narrator decipher the series in time to stop the killer?
Reading a book after seeing is such a strange endeavor since a filmmaker’s view of the story can differ so much any given reader’s interpretation. In this particular case, I knew the end solution, which definitely ratcheted down the suspense. However, it allowed me to appreciate how closely the film mirrored the events of the book while also being more logical. Some of the things I didn’t find believable on screen, like any sort of sexual longing Beth and the protagonist, felt natural in the book. The main character also isn’t obsessed with Professor Seldom, which felt a little too stalkerish and obsessive in the film. While disturbing, the narrator’s whole life isn’t thrown asunder by the murders in the novel, and he continues his education.
The mathematical elements were a nice addition to the story, although sometimes these elements were explained for the sake of the reader and this bogged the story down. In real life, two mathematicians aren’t going to take the time to explain basic mathematical concepts to each other. Rather, they’d talk in mathematical shorthand unique to their field. As a reader I was willing to overlook this because I appreciated the originality of the story and appreciated using mathematics and higher thought to create a serial killer.
Title: The Oxford Murders
Author: Guillermo Martinez
Source: Public Library
Read: January 2011