##
__The
Oxford Murders – ____Guillermo
Martinez (translated by Sonia Soto) __

__The Oxford Murders –__

This was certainly a random pick to suit the condition. This
book by Argentinian author Guillermo Martinez uses a mix of mathematics and
murder mystery to make an intriguing cocktail.

It actually begins as the narrator (who remains unnamed)
embarks on a flashback to the time he was goes to Oxford
as graduate student , taking a room within the house of an elderly lady who had
helped decipher the Enigma Code during WWII. He meets Arthur Seldom, a renowned
Oxford logician who is an idol of his who has happened to have written a book
about the parallels between investigations of serial killers and certain
mathematical theorems.

The narrator finds his landlady, Mrs Eagleton,
murdered in her parlour, he learns Seldom had received an anonymous note bearing
a circle and the words, 'the first of the series’. The mathematical
symbols are the key to a mysterious sequence of murders. Each new death is
accompanied by a different mathematical shape, starting with the circle. It
seems that the serial killer can be stopped only if someone can crack the next
symbol in the sequence. The math graduate is joined by Arthur Seldom on the
quest to crack the cryptic clues. It is up to the mentor
and student to solve the puzzle before the killer strikes again.

There are plenty of mathematicians in the whole story,
including the narrator, his mentor, the first victim and so on. There are also
plenty of discussions on mathematics and logic which is an important part of the
mystery. It includes brief disquisitions on Gödel's theorem, Heisenberg's
uncertainty principle and Wittgenstein's paradox, which demonstrates "the
impossibility of establishing an unambiguous rule." None of that helps
very much in solving the crimes, but it makes an intriguing context for the
author's exploration of a fundamental mystery theme—how we impose meaningful
patterns on the confusing evidence of reality and are in turn misled and
blinded by those patterns.

There are many similarities between cracking a crime and
trying to prove a mathematical theorem. Quite often the mathematical world is
scattered with a sequence of clues, and the art of the mathematician is to try
to piece together a coherent and logical argument to explain the evidence. It
is no surprise to learn that the author of the book, Guillermo Martínez, has a
PhD in mathematics.

Even though the ending wasn’t predictable, I still didn’t completely
enjoy the mystery. It wasn’t because of the mathematical discussions or
explanations, which were in fact explained quite lucidly (surprising since the
speakers are both expert mathematicians and there isn’t any need between them
to simplify the thermos), the series of crimes also keeps one guessing, however
the characters were hardly well-developed so much so we don’t know enough about
them to understand or connect to them. And in the end this could be said to be
its major downfall.

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