Oxford Murder

Course summary

Oxford Murder


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 4 Harriet Vane novels in chronological order: Strong Poison, Have His Carcase, Gaudy Night, and Busman's Honeymoon.
Light Relief: Michael Innes: Operation Pax From serious issues we move to (almost) pure pleasure. This is by Christ Church’s own murder writer and is a mixture of P G Wodehouse and Graham Greene and takes in much of Oxford.
The Television Age: Colin Dexter: The Dead of Jericho 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 fifth novel but the first to be filmed and so is a suitable place to consider the Morse phenomenon.
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.

Field Trip:
7 July - Detective walk around Oxford.

Recommended reading

Dexter, C. 2007. The Dead of Jericho (New Edition). Pan Books.

Innes, M. 2008. Operation Pax (New Edition). House of Stratus.

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

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

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


Programme Fee (including accommodation): £1285.00
Catering (included in fee): £0.00
Single Ensuite Upgrade: £180.00


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.

Course aims

This course aims to investigate the richness and variety of crime fiction set here through lively discussion of five key Oxford crime novels and hopes to discover why Oxford has been called ‘the home of lost corpses’?

Assessment methods

There are no assessments for this course.


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