And so fell into my hands this novel by Guillermo Martinez, Argentinean mathematician and mystery writer. Now that’s an unusual combination–the mathematician part, I mean. There was Aasimov, of course, but he wrote science fiction, and Tom Lear, but he wrote satiric songs, and … I don’t know another. Neither of the others mixed math so obviously with their non-academic work (Except maybe for Lear’s “New Math”). Martinez, though, does a highly credible job of integrating math concepts into his narrative without losing his reader. At least this reader. So, the Oxford Murders.
The problem in this one is to stop a serial killer who wants to keep his crimes secret on the one hand, yet publicizes them on the other. The victims are killed so as to make their deaths seem natural. Yet, the killer leaves a note after each crime which labels it as one of a series and leaves a symbol. The game for the grad math student and his legendary professor is to help the police predict the next symbol in the series and thus prevent more killings.
The mathematicians–the narrator grad student and his legendary professor–talk a lot of math, some of it comprehensible, some of it arcane, but little of it gets in the way of an interesting plot. I suppose if you know more about math than I do, it might even enrich the reading.
In the end, naturally, the murderer is identified. It’s someone no one thought of. And someone who has nothing to do with the math. If you were tantalized (as I was not) by those SAT questions that asked what came next in the series, say, of 10, 15, 22.5, you’ll be enthralled by the puzzle in this book. Unless, of course, you’re intimately familiar with the history of mathematics, in which case you might guess the puzzle part of the thing right off and be horribly bored.
And that’s all the clues I’m going to give you. This is a quick and enjoyable read, and I hope young Mr. Martinez sticks around for a while.