J. C. MASTERMAN An Oxford Tragedy

J. C. MASTERMAN – An Oxford Tragedy. Victor Gollancz, UK, hardcover, 1933; Penguin, UK, paperback, 1954. Dover Press, US, softcover, 1981.

   Mysteries set in Oxford have a cultured, leisurely way with them, The protagonists are generally dons; the conversation in the Senior Common Room is on matters of scholarly import, over coffee, port, and good cigars. One feels the ease and contentment of that sort of life, and it’s acknowledged by Winn, the narrator of this one. Then murder breaks in and changes everything.

J. C. MASTERMN An Oxford Tragedy

   The reality of people’s feelings comes out from beneath the veneer of affability. Suspicion clouds the easy daily routine. Such is An Oxford Tragedy. The title informs us that this is more than mere murder. Shirley, an unpopular don, is shot and killed in the rooms of the dean, Hargreaves, who has left a loaded gun on his table and carelessly told the high table of that fact.

   Brandel, an Austrian lawyer with some experience of criminal investigation, happens to be visiting in college for a week. He is immediately brought into the matter by Winn, who acts as his Watson.

   Winn makes a good Watson, “infirm of purpose” and constantly analyzing his own actions and motives. Brendel is almost too good to be true, a Germanic Holmes. The interest in the book, now so dated, lies in its depiction of life at Oxford in the good old days.

— Reprinted from The Poisoned Pen, Vol. 6, No. 2, Winter 1984/85.

Bio-Bibliographic Notes:   Ernest Brendel solved only one other case that was recorded by author J. C. Masterman for posterity; that is to say, The Case of the Four Friends (Hodder, UK, hardcover, 1957; no US edition). For more on the author himself, you might go first to his Wikipedia entry, which begins thusly:

    “Sir John Cecil Masterman (12 January 1891 – 6 June 1977) was a noted academic, sportsman and author. However, he was best known as chairman of the Twenty Committee, which during World War II ran the Double Cross System, the scheme that controlled double agents in Britain.”