By September 7, 2008 0 Comments Read More →

Well, Did a Murder Happen, or Not?

Guillermo Martinez, the Argentinean writer whose literary mystery, The Oxford Murders, became an international sensation in 2005, has written a new novel pursuing the same obsession as his first novel: the very nature of believing someone has been killed, and the nagging doubts of imperceptible murders.

Oxford Murders  He’s got a unique spin going on mystery writing, and he plays on some very real issues. Some truths can’t be proved. Some part of the truth is always beyond reach. If you doubt that, he’ll convince you. Martinez finds the perfect vehicle to pursue his philosophical concerns in Fermat’s Last Theorem. Okay, I don’t know what it is, either, but for three hundred years, people have died trying to solve this most ancient problem in mathematics. In Martinez’ novel, a stolen paper provides the springboard for a possible proof, and because of it, people are beginning to die.

It’s a short, tight, fun novel if you haven’t already discovered it. Join the twenty-two-year-old graduate student from Argentina as his stay at Oxford turns into a treacherous puzzle. Watch the mysterious mathematical genius, Arthur Seldom, pit his wits against Inspector Petersen of the Oxford police in their pursuit of a serial killer, which leads them from Gödel’s Incompleteness Theorem to Pythagorean mysticism. Believe me, it’s not difficult to understand in the least, even for a mathematical ignoramus like myself.

It’s a thrilling, intellectually-teasing homage to the great mystery classics, an elegant tour-de-force that’s part Arthur Conan Doyle, part Jorge Luis Borges. It’s dizzyingly original and refreshingly smart, and believe me, it’s got an ending you’ll remember long after you close the book.

Book of Murder  Well, Martinez pursues a similar path in his new novel, The Book of Murder, due in bookstores in a couple weeks, and maybe this will become his personal wrinkle on the detective genre. I’m halfway through it, and intrigued. Once again the murders themselves are uncertain. Luciana, the attractive young typist who helped the author ten years ago when his hand was in a cast, has now returned to him in a frantic state, decidedly less attractive and convinced that her former employer, Kloster, now an internationally famous author, is systematically murdering everyone she holds dear.

Luciana sounds like she’s losing her mind. Or is she?  Book of Murder

Kloster is always somehow on the edges of her world, lurking nearby as her boyfriend, her parents, and her brother meet deaths that appear to be accidental. And maybe they are. Maybe Luciana is mad as a hatter, and can’t deal with coincidence and mortality. Well, now she’s really flipping out, nearly hysterical with fear, because she’s seen Kloster outside her grandmother’s old folks’ home, and he’s been invited to her younger sister’s school. She’s asking the author/narrator to intervene for her with Kloster and beg him to stop. And the fool has just agreed to do it!

I had my doubts at first, but now I’m hooked. It’s a slightly surreal Borges spin to have murders that may or may not be murders. Besides which, Luciana could just as easily be the killer as the former employer she’s accusing. Martinez is dancing right down the razor’s edge of ambiguity, and, well…

Enough! I’ve blogged enough for one night – I’m going back to my book.

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About the Author:

Nick DiMartino is a university bookseller in Seattle, WA. He was a Booklist contributor from 2007 to 2009 and is the author of Seattle Ghost Story (1998) as well as numerous plays.

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