I’ve always been fascinated by the number of crime stories that are set in Oxford. Many, many more than are set in English cities more obviously associated with real-life crime. When I was a student, I used to haunt the Paperback Bookshop on Broad Street, opposite my college, and I well remember a display of books by a new local author – to which, it has to be said, nobody else seemed to pay a great deal of attention. His name was Colin Dexter and now, of course, he is one of the great names of the genre. Sadly, the Paperback Bookshop is no more, though I did have the very real pleasure of seeing some of my own books on its shelves on my last visit prior to its demise (I prefer not to think that their decision to stock my work was connected with financial calamity!)
On a visit to the city eighteen months ago, I read The Oxford Murders by Guillermo Martinez – even writers from Argentina, it seems, love to use the city as a crime scene - and very much enjoyed it. It’s a literary detective story of considerable appeal. Now I’ve seen the film, which boasts an excellent cast including Elijah Wood as the student (named Martin) at the heart of the story, John Hurt as a mathematician with a philosophical bent who is his hero, Anna Massey as his landlady (and the first murder victim) and Leonor Watling and Julie Cox as the women who fall, more at less at first sight, for lucky old Martin. Jim Carter plays the investigating cop with his usual gusto.
I had mixed feelings about the film. It’s a very difficult book to adapt for the big screen, I think, and although the movie is at times visually stunning, the script is verbose and I wasn’t entirely convinced by some of the acting, which struck me as being at times over-the-top. Worth watching, yes, but a good example of material that suits prose better than a theatrical experience.