Oxford Murder

Course summary

Oxford Murder


The Oxford Experience is a residential summer programme providing one-week courses in a variety of subjects aimed at non-specialists. It offers a choice of seminars each week over a period of six weeks.

Inspector Morse is probably the most famous of Oxford's fictional detectives but he is not the only one. For about a hundred years fictional murders have stained Oxford’s streets and colleges with blood and well over a hundred detective and crime novels have been set here. What are the special characteristics of Oxford that have led to so much death - or perhaps to so much clever detection? We study five of these books and discover much more about the history of English crime fiction, its varieties, and the way a book is constructed. Students are asked to read the five books before the course begins.

Programme details

Seminars meet each weekday morning, 09.15-10.45 and 11.15-12.45, with afternoons free for course-related field trips, individual study or exploring the many beautiful places in and around the city.


We start with one of the earliest, and one of the best, Oxford detective stories. It is still relevant today in its worrying about the place of women and about academic integrity. This book strains to keep the balance between life's very real problems and the demands of entertainment - does it succeed? It's not essential, but to get the best out of Gaudy Night you might like to read the four Harriet Vane novels in chronological order: Strong Poison, Have His Carcase, Gaudy Night, and Busman's Honeymoon.


Light Relief: Edmund Crispin: The Moving Toyshop. From serious issues we move to pure pleasure. This is a young man’s book, light and frothy, that touches reality at no point but which conveys much of the spirit of Oxford. How successful are “funny” detective stories? (For an enjoyable follow up to this read Landscape with Dead Dons by Robert Robinson which reverses one of Crispin’s set pieces and takes it further, filling Oxford with naked men running.)


The Television Age: Colin Dexter: Last Bus to Woodstock. Inspector Morse looms over Oxford crime fiction today but more people know the TV series than have read the books. How faithful were the programmes to the author’s texts? What was Morse like before he was on television? This was the very first novel and so is a suitable place to consider the Morse phenomenon (and you can take the bus to Woodstock).


Historical Mystery: Iain Pears: An Instance of the Fingerpost. This is a very different book. It is set in the 1660s amidst the ferment of the early scientific experimental method and the struggles between catholics and protestants for the soul of England. It includes historical characters set in a vividly described city. We will consider especially its unusual structure which suits the book’s themes. In the afternoon we stroll round some of the places we have been reading about.


Foreigners at Oxford: Guillermo Martinez: The Oxford Murders.To end the week we move from seventeenth century science and religion to twentieth century mathematics and perhaps amorality with a book written by an Argentinian about an Argentinian student in Oxford. This is perhaps a real ‘Oxford’ crime novel as it is more interested in being very clever than in the development of character. After our discussion of this book we end with an overview of the week and try to sum up Oxford Murder.

Recommended reading

Crispin, E.  The Moving Toyshop (New Edition).  Vintage. 2007. 

Dexter, C.  Last Bus to Woodstock (New Edition).  Pan Books. 2016. 

Martinez, G. The Oxford Murders (New Edition).  Abacus. 2008. 

Pears, I.  An Instance of the Fingerpost (New Edition).  Vintage. 1998. 

Sayers, D.  Gaudy Night (New Edition).  New English Library. 1987. 


During your course, you will stay in typical Oxford student accommodation at Christ Church in buildings which range from the 18th to the 20th century. Bedrooms are modestly-furnished, do not have air-conditioning and are arranged on a staircase of four or five floors.

The fee £1490  includes a bedroom with private bathroom facilities (shower, washbasin and toilet). Most are single but a few twins are available for couples or those who wish to share with a friend. Those couples wishing to book a twin room should contact us direct ipoxex@conted.ox.ac.uk, as these rooms cannot be booked online.

There are also a few standard rooms available which all have their own washbasin and shaver point but the bath and toilet facilities on each staircase are shared. To apply for one of these rooms please select the ‘Programme Fee (with single standard accommodation and meals)’ option on the application form.  Early application for these rooms is essential.

Most standard rooms are single but there are a few ‘twin sets’ (two single rooms opening off a sitting room). If you wish to book a twin set, please contact us direct ipoxex@conted.ox.ac.uk, as these rooms cannot be booked online.

Please indicate your accommodation preferences (either online or on your application form) together with a note of any mobility problems.

We regret that we are unable to offer you accommodation at Christ Church prior to or following your course. Additionally, family or friends who are not enrolled in the programme cannot be accommodated in college.


Programme Fee (with single en-suite accommodation and meals): £1490.00
Programme Fee (with single standard accommodation and meals): £1310.00


Mr Michael Harrison


Michael Harrison is a professional writer who has published over fifty books, including anthologies, poetry, and crime novels for children, and literary guide books and short stories for adults. He has taught 19 previous Oxford Experience courses and during the winter months teaches a weekly adult literature class.

Assessment methods

There are no assessments for this course.


Online registration closes on Monday, 1 May 2017 but please note that this course may be fully booked very quickly so early registration is recommended.