Oxford, traditional epicentre of murder and scholastic mayhem in England doesn’t want to miss out again, and in this skilfully constructed crime thriller by David Tregarthen we are introduced to a new murderer and of course a new Oxford-based detective, following in the footsteps of too many to mention. DS Kate Stewart and her partner turn to medievalist Dr Jonathan Reynolds to help them solve a grisly murder, with reference to Beowulf, the eponymous hero who fought an epic monster in Grendel.
This is a carefully crafted, sophisticated novel of suspense, that draws the reader into the dark shadows of the University town, where a relentless killer with a penchant for literature hides in the shadows. A student is found decapitated in the cupola of the Sheldonian Theatre and, with the body, is a cryptic note in a strange language. The note is finally recognised as a passage from the heroic poem Beowulf, and soon we see that the grisly murder replicates a bloody death in the work.
Then we see a second, equally grisly murder and find that the victim is Tom, a former student of Reynolds. A horrified Reynolds sees the crime’s link to another literary connection, an early English poem. We are forced to ask what is this obsession with medieval times, or is it with Dr Jonathan Reynolds himself?
Another death suggests that a killer is working his way through the University’s English Literature syllabus, and the police and the scholar are drawn further into a hideous mystery where no one is safe.
The novel is set in an Oxford of Morse, Gervase Fen, and Nigel Strangeways, the town of the traditional detective, but also an Oxford cowering in fear as the murders gain media coverage. DS Kate Stewart is an interesting character who bears comparisons with the aforementioned sleuths as she neatly steps towards the maniac taunting the town.
Who will be next? Who is the murderous enigma mocking the police, the public and especially the scholar Jonathan Reynolds?