After reading Tropic of Capricorn I needed a break from reading anything remotely difficult and this had been on my shelf for quite a while (June 2013) and I figured it was pretty short and murder mysteries are usually a quick read and thankfully it was both quick and interesting.
What really stood out to me was how excellently written and easily flowing the text was. Similar to Blindness and some of Paulo Coehlo’s works (Witch of Portobello Road and The Alchemist) I wonder if it is the translator, this is a different one, or if it is just the beauty of the Spanish/Portuguese language and the translation that results. I wish I would’ve read Martínez before going to Spain because I would’ve looked for one (or more) of his books in Spanish!
As a murder mystery the thrill wasn’t in who was being murdered or even how they were being murdered, but why they were being murdered. I guess you could call this an intellectual murder mystery versus a psychological thriller. There were no heinous acts of murder like those in Galbraith’s/Rowling’s most recent Career of Evil, and all of the tension and build up came form Martínez’s skillful language use:
“Everything became quiet, the lights over the orchestra went out and a single spotlight focused on an elderly, ghostly figure holding up a triangle. We heard a distant, hieratic tinkling, like the dripping of thawing ice. The orchestra reappeared, bathed in a light tinged with orange, possibly intended to represent the dawn. The triangle sounded in counterpoint to the flutes, gradually fading from the central motif. In turn, other instruments joined in, putting one in mind of flowers slowly opening out. The conduct’rs baton suddenly set a frenzied rhythm for the brass, which sounded like wild horses galloping across the plain. Gradually all the sections of the orchestra submitted to the insane pace, until the conductor waved his baton in the percussionist’s direction. The spotlight again focused on him, as if a crescendo was to come from there. But, in the harsh white beam, we could see that something was terribly wrong.” (116-117)
Not only is his description incredibly beautiful, but it physically builds you up to a crescendo and then immediately punches you in the gut!
There are multiple red herrings throughout the book, but you never really know if they are supposed to be or not. The end of the book is very rapid and kept me on my toes. I followed the red herring I was supposed to and even when I did that I wasn’t 100% shocked when it turned out to not be the case! It didn’t hurt that Martínez’s characters are strong and interesting, there are few characters in the novel, but each one of them has distinct characteristics and personalities even if you only meet them once.
Recommendation: I definitely recommend this one! It’s a quick and surprisingly light read for a murder mystery. I really do hope I am able to find some of Martínez’s work in Spanish so that I can see if it is as easy to read as it is in English.
Opening Line: “Now that the years have passed and everything’s been forgotten, and now that I’ve received a terse e-mail from Scotland with the sad news of Seldom’s death, I feel I can break my silence (which he never asked for anyway) and ell the truth about events that reached the British papers in the summer of ’93 with macabre and sensationalist headlines, but to which Seldom and I always referred – perhaps due to the mathematical connotation – simply as the series, or the Oxford series.”
Closing Line: “The last shred of flesh had disappeared, and as far as the eye could see, the road stretching ahead of me was clean, clear, innocent once more.” (Whited out to avoid spoilers, highlight to read.)
Additional Quotes from The Oxford Murders
“For a time I thought this might be the kernel of an explanation: that in practice mathematicians might only be asking the questions for which, in some partial way, they had proof. Not, of course, unconsciously to make things easier for themselves but because mathematical intuition – an this was my conjecture – was inextricably linked with the methods of proof, and directed in a Kantian way, shall we say, towards, what can either be clearly proved or clearly refuted. That the knight’s leaps involved in the mental operations of intuition were not, as was often believed, sudden dramatic illuminations but modest, abbreviated versions of what could always be reached eventually with the slow, tortoise-like steps of a proof.” (50)