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An Argentinian mathematician arrives in Oxford to study. Rather than take up a place in the halls of residence, he chooses to rent a basement flat from the widow of a famous academic. Mrs Eagleton is an ideal landlady - she is bright, but is prepared to leave our storyteller to his own devices, as is her niece, Beth. Then one day, he returns to the house to find his landlady dead - and she didn't die from natural causes. What is more, the murderer has left a clue in the form of a symbol.
With the help of Arthur Seldom, an old friend of the Eagleton family, and himself an acadmic, our storyteller believes that the symbol is the first of a logical series. He and Seldom are soon proved right when two more deaths occur, also accompanied by symbols scrawled on pieces of paper. Is Arthur Seldom genuinely trying to help, or does he know more than he is letting on? Will our hero be able to solve the murders before a fourth occurs?
The idea of a thoroughly British murder in the thoroughly British university town of Oxford, but written by an Argentinian does seem rather bizarre. However, this is exactly what intrigued me about the book, and I certainly didn't find it a disappointment. I was relieved to find that, despite the mathematical connection, there is no need for the read to understand mathematics. However, anyone who has mathematical inclinations will find it a benefit.
Characterisation is certainly not the strong point of this book. We know that our hero is Argentinian and we know that he is intelligent enough to win a scholarship to study at Oxford, but we find out very little else about him, including his name. This didn't really detract much from the story, but I found myself itching to find out a little more about him. The other characters are even more mysterious, but as they are potential suspects, this is not particularly surprising. However, considering that the author is a native Argentinian and has spent most of his life there, he has done a good job of creating characters that are not caricatures of what he thinks British people are like.
I did really enjoy the plot. The book is short, which makes it satisfyingly possible to read in a single sitting, but nothing is given away until the time is right. There is a twist towards the end, which comes as quite a surprise and is cleverly done. As already mentioned, an understanding of mathematics is not really necessary. To a certain extent, I don't think the mathematical links were strictly needed - it made the author appear to be a little too clever for his own good - but the plot was still strong enough on its own.
The book was written in Spanish and translated by Sonia Soto. Soto has done an excellent job of translating. The language flows well, even when the book moves into mathematical/philosophical language. The translation should certainly not be considered a barrier to anyone wanting to read it.
Overall, I found this book very satisfying and absorbing. Recommended to anyone who likes crime fiction, particularly if you are also a mathematician!
This book is available from play.com for £5.99. Published by Little Brown Book Group, it has 208 pages. ISBN: 9780349117232