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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

The Oxford Brotherhood

Guillermo Martínez

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To purchase The Oxford Brotherhood

Title: The Oxford Brotherhood
Author: Guillermo Martínez
Genre: Novel
Written: 2019 (Eng. 2022)
Length: 276 pages
Original in: Spanish
Availability: The Oxford Brotherhood - US
Los crímenes de Alicia - US
The Oxford Brotherhood - UK
The Oxford Brotherhood - Canada
Der Fall Alice im Wunderland - Deutschland
I delitti di Alice - Italia
Los crímenes de Alicia - España
from: Bookshop.org (US)
  • Spanish title: Los crímenes de Alicia
  • Translated by Alberto Manguel

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Our Assessment:

B : workmanlike, with some decent nods to the past

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Frankfurter Rundschau . 18/6/2020 Sylvia Staude
The NY Times Book Rev. . 8/4/2022 Sarah Weinman
The Times . 2/2/2022 Mark Sanderson
The Washington Post . 20/4/2022 Michael Dirda

  From the Reviews:
  • "Martínez transportiert also eine ernste Thematik in einem tadellos gebauten Whodunnit. Das beißt sich keineswegs, im Gegenteil hat die Leserin das Gefühl, nicht nur exzellent unterhalten zu werden, sondern dabei auch was zu lernen. Unter anderem über eine Zeit, in der Zwölfjährige mit weit älteren Männern verlobt wurden, denen man dann allenfalls riet, mit der Ehe und ihrem Vollzug noch ein, zwei Jahre zu warten." - Sylvia Staude, Frankfurter Rundschau

  • "G (whose full name is apparently “far too long” to write out) is a somewhat passive protagonist, hovering on the cusp of indecision as the death toll mounts. Martínez, however, assuredly steers the plot to a conclusion that is equally preposterous as it is inevitable. That’s the mark of a writer who’s spent decades steeped in mystery plot twists." - Sarah Weinman, The New York Times Book Review

  • "All in all, The Oxford Brotherhood -- translated by the multilingual Alberto Manguel -- is somewhat meandering but quite satisfying, except for an unconvincing explanation for one particularly shocking death." - Michael Dirda, The Washington Post

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       The Oxford Brotherhood is narrated by the Argentinian student of mathematical logic, G. -- familiar from his account of The Oxford Murders. Those events took place in 1993, while The Oxford Brotherhood begins a year later, in June 1994. His friendship with Arthur Seldom -- the brilliant logician who played a significant role in the previous mystery -- also continues -- and it is Seldom who invites the narrator to learn about the doings of the Lewis Carroll Brotherhood, of which he is a member.
       The Brotherhood is planning on publishing an annotated edition of Lewis Carroll's surviving diaries. Notably, however:

In the 1863 notebook a few pages are missing, and in particular there are traces of one that has been clearly torn out and that corresponds to a very delicate moment in Carroll's relationship with Alice's parents.
       The Brotherhood sent a young intern, Kristen Hill, to photocopy all diaries and any related papers, and she has now reported making a significant and disturbing discovery. It is only a single sentence, but: "She believes that this sentence can answer the question that hangs over Lewis Carroll, but in a totally unexpected way". She's reluctant to reveal it, however, until she can be sure of getting due credit. Still, she agrees to produce it at a special meeting of the Brotherhood -- only to be run down by a car and seriously injured before she can do so.
       Seldom is sufficiently concerned about what happened that he asks Inspector Petersen to arrange a police detail to ensure Kristen's continued safety while she lies helpless in hospotal. She recalls little of what happened, but it soon becomes clear that she was run down intentionally -- presumably even with the intent of her being killed. As is, she is grievously injured, and will never walk again.
       The mystery-sentence seems to be the key. In hospital, Kristen brags:
I'm convinced that rather than a single article, I could write a whole book from the new perspective that the sentence opens up. I remembered a number of sections and phrases in the diaries that should now be read differently.
       The Brotherhood, full of Carroll-experts and afficionados with many books on the subject to their credit and now set to publish the annotated diaries, is of course eager to know just how seriously to take Kristen's claim. The stakes are raised when an American publisher offers a significant sum to publish the diaries -- a direct challenge to member Leonard Hinch, who has heretofore been the publisher of all the Brotherhood's books, and considerable temptation for those involved with the project, as the remuneration promises: "something like a stipend for life".
       A murder follows -- and connections to Carroll appear in both that case and what happened to Kristen. Pictures delivered to the would-be victims -- and then to the entire Brotherhood -- suggest someone is acting with a clear message in mind. The fact that the Brotherhood's honorary president is a 'Royal Personage' makes the entire matter an even more delicate one, as Carroll's interest in -- and photographs of -- young girls allow for disturbing interpretations. (Martínez goes on at considerable length about Carroll and changing times and mores -- noting, not least, that: "It's only since the fifties that we began to wonder if Lewis Carroll's interest in little girls might not have been entirely innocent", as well as that his most revealing photographs were only a very small part of an enormous output.)
       Another grisly murder follows, clearly related to the ongoing case but with the victim not someone from the inner Carroll-circle. But it helps lead to the lengthy denouement, where Martínez has a lot to explain.
       Kristen's refusal to share the mystery-sentence for so long is mildly annoying, but of a piece with Martínez's image of Oxford and academia, rife with jealousies and pettiness and all the self-important fussing of experts in their fields. There is some fun in that picture, and G makes a decent enough outsider-observer of the scene -- who recounts, rather than really penetrates much of this matter (but he has some decent excuses, including: "on top of all this, to make my task even more difficult, was the fact that they were English, long trained in the art of not expressing emotions").
       Much of the feel of the novel is not of 1990s Oxford but rather Golden Age crime fiction, certainly also in its elaborate solution(s). Martínez does pad the story some, in occasionally odd ways -- the suicide of one couple's daughter, years earlier, is dragged into the story, for example -- but there are some incidental touches that are amusing in their oddness (such as G at one point wondering whether something: "was a sad moral about restraint, or some principal of sexual economy à la Wilhelm Reich"). Carroll, and speculation about his possible inclinations of course plays a very large role, and the novel does bog down a bit in these -- though it's the games around the keeping secret of that one sentence that are the most disappointing. Given all the fuss, the big reveal should be really big -- and it doesn't really come across that way.
       Parts of the resolution are downright silly, but the explanations are reasonable enough, after a fashion. And it's all enough to chase G out of town, which is also ... something.
       Something of a tribute to the old-school crime novel, Martínez doesn't do quite enough with his stock figures -- like the logician Seldom -- and can't quite make the Lewis Carroll angle interesting enough, but it's a workmanlike mystery with enough of interest to hold the reader's attention -- if, alas, not much more.

- M.A.Orthofer, 10 August 2022

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The Oxford Brotherhood: Reviews: Lewis Carroll: Other books by Guillermo Martínez under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Argentinian author Guillermo Martínez was born in 1962. He teaches mathematics at the University of Buenos Aires.

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© 2022 the complete review

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