This is the story of a literary murder mystery in an academic setting. That’s the reason I bought the book – the blurb sold it to me instantly. But something else I have to mention is the attraction of the book cover itself – a leafy academic scene with a girl in what looks like a red negligee walking away with her back to us. Interesting I thought and despite the book being about a murder, it made me want to travel to Oxford….
First the book:
If you were to ask me to tell you about my wife, I would have to warn you at the outset that I don’t know a great deal about her. Or at least not as much as I thought I did.
This is the story of of Alex, a lawyer, and how, on a visit back to their old Oxford college, his beautiful wife Rachel is mysteriously murdered on Midsummer’s night .As Alex retraces the events of that night and their history at Oxford, he realises how little he knew of Rachel and is drawn into discovering how she died.
Oxford is as much a character in this novel as Alex and his wife are to be honest. The book really brings across the atmosphere at this elite academic world. And as like some academic talks, the book does take slightly meander off the point from time to time but I still enjoyed reading more about Ale’s background as I felt ,personally that it added to the story.
The prose is cool crisp and you can sense the hollowness of the stone academic corridors as you move along the pages. The academic surroundings enhanced Alex’s character of the quiet, solitary man, and I understood his need to find out what had happened to his wife. And when Alex began to ask questions, when he finally managed to get some answers from people he suspected were withholding information, I read quicker wanting to know, as he did, what the answers would be.
The place: Oxford
The atmosphere and the literary allusions are of course typical Oxford.
Oxford University is a unique and historic institution, a perfect setting for a search for the truth with plenty of research and interviews to find the answers. Oxford is the oldest university in the English-speaking world, and is made up of 38 autonomous colleges.
Christ Church is the most famous (you may recognise Hogwarts Hall) but other colleges of note are St Hilda’s overlooking the river, Brasenose with its stunning gardens and of course the clock tower of Magdalen College. There is a really fascinating guided walk and I was inspired to do this to really find out more about what I’d come across in the novels and to visit the places and areas of the academic world, I would normally not have the chance to do.
Worchester College is the one featured in the book and a creepy sense of intrigue swirls through the prose like mist amongst the spires. Does the mist serve to settle answers or raise more?
The college is near the centre of Oxford today, but it was on the edge of the city in the eighteenth century. Thanks to this, it has managed to keep extensive and impressive gardens which have won numerous awards and which even have their own blog maintained by the head gardener and his team to give people an insight into the world in the work involved in maintaining them. And what a lot of effort goes into it!. Too beautiful for a murder…..
The buildings of the college are diverse. One of which is a row of medieval buildings known as “the cottages”, which are among the oldest residential buildings in the city. They were actually part of the formally a college for monks founded in 1283 and dissolved under Henry VIII in about 1539.
A book whose subject and literary setting enhances its reading. I discovered a new part of Oxford even ate lunch in the Eagle and Child pub used in a episode of Lewis – well I had to add an extra literary sparkle whilst I was there didn’t I? It has lots of literary connections of its own such as the fact that J.R.R. Tolkien, C.S. Lewis and fellow writers apparently would meet here and dubbed themselves ‘The Inklings’.
With all of these literary marvels, I peered back into a fascinating and historic literary world.
I shall be back.