THE latest 1930s murder mystery by the Australian author and broadcaster Kel Richards, The Sinister Student (Marylebone House, £8.99 (£8.10); 978-1-910674-32-1), relates another extraordinary event bemusing the powerful brains of the group known as the Inklings, comprising Oxford dons and their clever friends: C. S. Lewis, his brother, Warnie, J. R. R. Tolkien, Neville Coghill, Hugo Dyson, and a few others, including the book’s young narrator, Tom Morris, a postgraduate student of C. S. Lewis.
How on earth can a murdered undergraduate be found headless in his bedroom when both the outer door and the windows have been locked from the inside? What is more, the head has completely disappeared. And there is nothing to help them — despite pints of blood round the body, there are no fingerprints, no clues at all. And no sign of a murder weapon.
To start with, the Inklings themselves are suspects, because the night before the body was found, they had met as usual, plus two visitors: our narrator, Tom, and a stranger, Auberon Wilsden, the rather unfriendly undergraduate who is found dead the next day, lying in his pyjamas, headless.
Enter a second young man, David Bracken, who has a guest’s room on the same staircase in Magdalen College as Tom Morris. He is even creepier than the dead Wilsden was, and introduces a new science-fiction element into the narrative. I personally don’t think this works, as the theme of a world beyond this one in the rest of the novel rises from the complex discussions of Christian faith and the meaning of the Crucifixion among the Inklings, rather than extraordinary science- fiction-type experiences with an inexplicable death thrown into the mix.
But lovers of sci-fi will enjoy this aspect of the novel, and lovers of books by Lewis and Tolkien will enjoy the theological discussions taking place in that favourite Oxford pub they met in, the Eagle and Child, known always as the Bird and Baby.
Peggy Woodford is a novelist.