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the Oxford murders

Set in the
spring and summer of 1993, the Oxford
Murders
by Guillermo Martinez is
a crime-story about a series of murders commited in Oxford. At a certain
moment one even conjectures that the next victim will be Andrew Wiles on the eve of delivering his extra two talks at
a Cambridge seminar and that as a consequence the proof of
Fermat’s last theorem will be lost for another three
centuries… At that particular point in the book, I stopped looking
for the killer and just enjoyed the story (true or false?) of a bus
chartered by the Oxford Maths department to go to Cambridge to witness
the final two talks whereas the betting-rates were still 6 to 1
_against_ Wiles the night before. There are more hilarious
stories about a Russian PostDoc in Oxford, claiming that someone stole
his ideas on Fermat’s theorem and got a Fields Medal for it…
And so on, and so on, probably it gives a pretty accurate picture of the
life of many PostDocs travelling from one place to another to survive
(although, clearly Oxford is not just a place like any other… some
may argue). All in all, it is a rather enjoyable read. It is a
bit short (197 pages) so that there are not that many likely suspects
around to guess the two (!) outcomes way ahead. In fact, in the end I
wasn’t that much interested in the identity of the murderer but
rather in some of the side-line suicide stories. Sure, I was aware that
Taniyama and Turing commited suicide
but whereas I did know Taniyama’s method (and I notice that on the
web one is very cautious about it, so I will not give it away
here…) I never heard that Turing ate an apple laced with cyanide.
Further, I didn’t know of Taniyama’s ‘mysterious
suicide note’. So I looked it
up
. It seems that he left a three page note, most of it concerned
with specifying dates when his books should be returned to the library,
indications on how far he got with certain courses and plenty of
apologies. Still, there are these mysterious sentences which some people
used to cook up a conspiracy theory

‘’Until yesterday I have had no definite
intention of killing myself. But more than a few must have noticed I
have been tired both physically and mentally. As to the cause of my
suicide, I don’t quite understand it myself, but it is not the
result of a particular incident, nor of a specific matter. Merely may I
say, I am in the frame of mind that I lost confidence in my future.
There may be some to whom my suicide will be troubling or a blow to a
certain degree. I sincerely hope that this incident will cast no dark
shadow over the future of that person. At any rate I cannot deny that
this is a kind of betrayal, but please excuse it as my last act in my
own way, as I have been doing all my
life.\’’

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