The Oxford Virus by Adam Kolczynski

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The Oxford Virus by Adam Kolczynski

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Category: Crime
Rating: 3/5
Reviewer: Robin Leggett
Reviewed by Robin Leggett
Summary: An intriguing mix of medical crime, academic satire and speculative fiction, this is well-plotted but lacks characterisation and ultimately believability in the central character's role.
Buy? Maybe Borrow? Maybe
Pages: 224 Date: October 2010
Publisher: Polybius Books
ISBN: 978-0956588005

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When Dr Olembé discovers a potential cure for cancer and is given the go-ahead to begin human trials, the potential rewards are huge. Sadly, his first human patient dies shortly afterwards. Medical neglect? Is Dr Olembé's reputation finished? Well, before we have much time to consider these things, a second body is discovered. This time it's a career academic at the university. Was this suicide? Are the two deaths linked? Part medical crime story, part academic satire, part speculative fiction, The Oxford Virus addresses this case.

First time writer, Kolczynski has an interesting background. He read biochemistry at Oxford as well as modern history so it's not surprising that there is a degree of authority to his descriptions of the suggested cancer cure, which effectively involved a virus that destroys the cancer but leaves the patient unaffected. It's an intriguing idea and the author manages to convey the concept logically without appearing to fall into the 'look how much I know' trap. I was fascinated by the set up and so wanted to enjoy the rest of the book, but I found myself getting more and more distanced from the story as it developed.

The initial death is investigated by Hungarian DCI Dárdai of Thames Valley Police. Why is he Hungarian? I don't know. Conveniently, he has a friend, a Russian by the name of Professor Konstantin Zolotov who is a failed medical student and now Head of Russian and East European Studies at one of the Oxford colleges. I know there are pressures on police resources, but quite when it became de rigeur for the police to get academic professors to do the investigation work escapes me. Yes, ultimately in some nice plot twists we discover why Zolotov might be interested in the two cases, but not why Dárdai might have sought his help in the first place other than the fact that they were once students together.

Zolotov has a pet student, an Argentinian by the name of Figueroa. Her role is to ask the obvious questions and to generally act as an Argentinian Dr Watson to Zolotov's Russian Sherlock Holmes. By now you will have discerned that there is a veritable league of nations in the story's characters. These seem to be purely arbitrary and the only reason that I can discern is that it avoids the need for character development. The reader thinks 'oh yes, that's the Argentinian one' rather than developing any depth of character. Nowhere does the nationality of these characters contribute to the story other than in a few Russian phrases dotted around.

So Zolotov, whose dialogue is verbose and somewhat cold, heads off in his Porsche to interview all and sundry and despite a complete lack of cover story everyone tells him exactly what he wants to know and yet his is neither qualified nor authorised to obtain these insights. Poirot had charm to help him. Zolotov has none.

Yet for all this, there is an interesting plot line and Kolczynski includes some neat twists and turns and there is the Agatha Christie-style meeting at the end of all the potential perpetrators when Zolotov ties it all together. If only he was a more sympathetically written character then this might have worked better. But Kolczynski isn't done with the reader yet and there are final twists even after the denouement.

It's a fascinating subject for a crime story, although perhaps the greater fascination is in the medical world than in the academic world that the author clearly knows well and to a large extent satirises. With experience and perhaps a tougher editing hand, Kolczynski may be a crime writer to watch out for in the future.

Our thanks to the kind folk at Polybius Books for sending a copy to the Bookbag for review.

For more crime capers, When Will There Be Good News? by Kate Atkinson is great fun while The Oxford Murders by Guillermo Martinez shows that for authors, Oxford remains a popular place to kill people! It's a wonder there's anyone left there...

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Buy The Oxford Virus by Adam Kolczynski at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Oxford Virus by Adam Kolczynski at


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