british mysteries set in oxford england

27 Brilliant British Mystery Novels Set in Oxford, England

Whether you’re a fan of the Endeavour – Inspector Morse – Inspector Lewis TV shows or you just love the city of Oxford, it’s hard to deny its appeal as the setting for a mystery novel. It’s a city filled with some of the world’s most brilliant people living and working alongside some of the world’s most beautiful scenery. It’s old, it’s distinguished, and it feels like a city with secrets.

There’s a reason it’s one of the most expensive cities in the UK.

If you want to immerse yourself in Oxford but you can’t actually BE there, these mystery novels are the next best thing. We tried to find a good balance between gritty mysteries, cozies, period pieces, and modern tales.

British Mystery Novels Set in Oxford, England

Most of the books below are mystery series, and in those cases, we’ve focused on the first book in each. You certainly don’t have to take our recommendation, though, as most authors write each volume in a way that allows for jumping in anywhere.

 

Inspector Morse

Colin Dexter’s Inspector Morse Mysteries

We can’t talk about Oxford mysteries without talking about Colin Dexter. His Inspector Morse series is by far the most famous mystery series set entirely in and around Oxford.

Morse is the quintessential troubled detective. He’s clever and often solitary, a fan of puzzles, and healthy (or rather,  unhealthy) dose of emotional baggage. Though capable, he never finished his education at Oxford, leaving him floating somewhere in between the posh elite and the cops he works with. Though the books and original TV series occasionally feel their age, they’re still great stories.

Start here: Amazon | Bookshop.org (support independent bookstores)

 

The Case of the Gilded Fly

Edmund Crispin’s Gervase Fen Novels

For all the attention Colin Dexter’s Morse books have gotten, it’s actually a bit surprising that Edmund Crispin’s Gervase Fen novels have gotten so little attention in terms of adaptation. The Moving Toyshop wasa adapted for a 1960s BBC anthology series, but aside from that, we’re not aware of any TV or film adaptations of his work.

Fen is a lanky, cheerful, ruddy-faced Oxford profressor and amateur sleuth. Unlike many fictional detectives, he has a fairly normal home life with a wife and children, and he actually seems like a fairly happy, curious sort of person.

Many of his cases are locked room mysteries, and he’s typically happiest while pursuing lines of investigation. When he makes progress or finishes a case, he can be a bit gloomy.

Start with; The Case of the Gilded Fly – Amazon | Bookshop.org (support independent bookstores)

 

An Instance of the Fingerpost

Ian Pears’ An Instance of the Fingerpost

According to the Sunday Boston Globe, this one “may well be the best historical mystery ever written.” If that’s not enough to intrigue you, I’m not sure what would.

The story begins in 1663 Oxford when a young servant girl confesses to murder. The only problem? Four different witnesses each point the finger at a different person.

There’s Marco da Cola, a visiting Italian physician (supposedly); Jack Prestcott, the son of a traitor; Dr. John Wallis, a mathematician and cryptographer with a fondness for conspiracy theories; and Anthony Wood, a mild-mannered local antiquarian.

At 750 pages, it’s a beefy read – but it flies by all too quickly.

Get it: Amazon | Bookshop.org (support independent bookstores)

 

A Question of Proof by Nicholas Blake

Nicholas Blake’s Nigel Strangeways Mysteries

Don’t let the modern covers fool you. These are great, classic mysteries written by Nicholas Blake (aka Poet Laureate Cecil Day-Lewis), a man born in County Laois, Ireland in 1904.

The first novel in his Nigel Strangeways series, A Question of Proof, was completed in 1935. It follows a young man, Michael Evans, whose affair with the headmaster’s wife ends with him being suspected of murder. He calls in his friend, aspiring investigator Nigel Strangeways.

Start with: Amazon | Bookshop.org (support independent bookstores)

 

Endymion Spring by Matthew Skelton

Matthew Skelton’s Endymion Spring

In an Oxford library, a young boy feels a strange jolt when he touches the page of a book. The volume is entirely blank, but fine veins run through the paper, and it seems to quiver on its own. In an instant, words begin to appear on the page – and this boy, the only person who can see them, unlocks a centuries-old mystery.

It’s not your traditional detective whodunnit, but Endymion Spring is a captivating novel for anyone who can appreciate a bit of magic in a beautiful setting.

Start with: Amazon | Bookshop.org (support independent bookstores)

 

Heresy by S.J. Parris

S.J. Parris’ Heresy

Though part of the imaginative Giordano Bruno series, only Heresy has Oxford as its primary setting. Conveniently, it’s also the first book in the Elizabethan-era series.

Giordano Bruno is part monk, part scholar, part scientist, and part magician – and his knowledge makes him a valuable asset to queen and country. Queen Elizabeth I sends him undercover to Oxford to officially take part in a debate about the theory of the universe. Unofficially, he’s there to find out about a Catholic plot to overthrow the queen.

Along the way, a series of gruesome murders takes him somewhat off course. Now, he finds himself pursuing a clever killer while also completing his original mission.

Get it: Amazon | Bookshop.org (support independent bookstores)

 

Death on the Cherwell by Mavis Hay

Mavis Hay’s Death on the Cherwell

Written in the golden age of murder mysteries, this Mavis Hay novel sees a prim and proper Oxford women’s college turned upside down after the bursar is found dead in her canoe. The resourceful students set out at once to investigate, quickly realising the clues may point to another student.

Get it: Amazon | Bookshop.org (support independent bookstores)

 

The Oxford Murders by Guillermo Martinez

Guillermo Martinez’s The Oxford Murders

On a summer day in Oxford, an Argentine maths student finds his landlady/former WW2 codebreaker murdered. At roughly the same time, a well-known Oxford logician gets an anonymous note with a circle and the words “the first in a series”. Together, the two must pair up to solve the clues before too many bodies pile up.

Get it: Amazon | Bookshop.org (support independent bookstores)

 

Trick of the Dark

Val McDermid’s Trick of the Dark

When a woman receives a mysterious set of press clippings about a murder at her old Oxford College, she’s intrigued, unable to get the crime out of her mind. Before too long, she’s heading back to her alma mater to learn the truth about what happened.

Our LGBT readers (and others who strive to incorporate some diversity in their reading lists) may be interested to know this one comes from award-winning Scottish crime writer, lesbian, and Oxford graduate (so you know it’s authentic) Val McDermid. Learn more about her HERE. Many of her novels, including this one, include gay and lesbian characters.

Get it: Amazon | Bookshop.org (support independent bookstores)

 

Robert Robinson’s Landscape with Dead Dons

At Oxford University, the body of a Vice-Chancellor is found stiff among a group of carved stone rooftop statues – and it’s not long before there’s a second murder. College life is thrown into chaos as Detective Autumn attempts to catch the killer.

Written in 1956 and now out of print, you can still find plenty of used copies around if you’d like to read this fun vintage mystery.

Get it: Amazon | Bookshop.org (support independent bookstores)

 

The Madwoman Upstairs by Catherine Lowell

Catherine Lowell’s The Madwoman Upstairs

If you like a bit of romance with your mystery, this clever debut novel certainly delivers. We begin with Samantha Whipple – a bright young woman who’s the only remaining descendant of the Brontë family. After her eccentric father’s death, she tasked with figuring out the rumoured mystery about a great family fortune.

Though armed with a vast trove of diaries, paintings, and other family writings, Samantha’s not entirely sure the treasure exists. That all changes when she enrolls at Oxford, though. Suddenly, she’s seeing little bits of things she recognises – and clues begin falling into place.

Get it: Amazon | Bookshop.org (support independent bookstores)

 

The Late Scholar by Jill Paton Walsh

Jill Paton Walsh’s The Late Scholar

Dorothy Sayers fans will either love or hate this series. Jill Paton Walsh has revived Lord Peter Wimsey and his detective novelist wife Harriet, pulling them into a variety of new mysteries.

In The Late Scholar, the pair decide to return to Oxford, the city that saw their long courtship culminate in marriage. When a dispute arises among the Fellows of St. Severin’s College, Lord Wimsey is brought in to help decide the matter. When people start dying and disappearing, however, it becomes clear the matter is a bit more complicated than originally believed.

Get it: Amazon | Bookshop.org (support independent bookstores)

 

Down Cemetery Road by Mick Herron

Mick Herron’s The Oxford Series

This award-winning debut novel introduces Sarah Tucker, a bored married woman who quickly becomes obsessed with the local case of a missing child. Her investigations take her from her quiet Oxford suburb all the way to the islands of Scotland.

This book is the first in a series of Oxford-based mysteries.

Start with: Amazon | Bookshop.org (support independent bookstores)

 

Death and the Oxford Box by Veronica Stallwood

Veronica Stallwood’s Kate Ivory Mysteries

Kate Ivory is the novelist turned amateur detective at the center of Veronica Stallwood’s series of Oxford-based cozy mysteries. In the first book, Death & the Oxford Box, Kate is on an early morning run with her women’s jogging group when a woman complains to her that her husband stole the antique enamel mourning-boxes her grandmother had given her – right before granny was scheduled to come calling.

The group decides to steal them back, not realising they’re about to provide cover for a much more sinister offense.

Start with: Amazon | Bookshop.org (support independent bookstores)

 

An Oxford Tragedy by J.C. Masterman

J.C. Masterman’s An Oxford Tragedy

When Viennese lawyer and criminologist Ernst Brendel comes to Oxford to lecture in Law, the regular residents of St Thomas’s are pleased to have such an interesting guest to chat with. Unfortunately, it’s not long before talk of murder gives way to real murder, and Brendel must work with Senior Tutor Francis Wheatley Winn to solve the case.

This book was originally published in 1933, making it another of the golden age mysteries not to be missed.

Start with: Amazon | Bookshop.org (support independent bookstores)

 

Falconer’s Crusade by Ian Morson

Ian Morson’s William Falconer Mysteries

Set in the year 1264, this series follows Regent Master William Falconer of Aristotle College, Oxford University, teacher and amateur detective, as he tries to solve the murder of Master John Fyssh’s French servant girl.

Falconer is a man ahead of his time, experimenting with flying devices, believing the world is round, and keeping an owl in his room. It’s a unique and interesting twist on the standard crime novel, and the entire series is worth a read.

Start with: Amazon | Bookshop.org (support independent bookstores)

 

Dead as a Dodo by Jane Langton

Jane Langton’s Dead as a Dodo

When Harvard professor Homer Kelly visits Oxford, he soon gets a crash course in “survival of the fittest”. As tensions among the teaching staff unfold, a promising vacation quickly slides into a mess of murder and mayhem. Now, the part-time sleuth must figure out what’s going on – before he’s next on the slab.

Start with: Amazon | Bookshop.org (support independent bookstores)

 

The Bookseller’s Tale by Ann Swinten

Ann Swinten’s Oxford Medieval Mysteries

In the spring of 1353, young bookseller Nicholas Elyot discovers the body of student William Farringdon floating in the river Cherwell. Though it initially looks like a drowning, he soon finds evidence of foul play.

As Elyot and his friend Jordan try to uncover what happened, they learn he may have been involved in a criminal plot – and their investigations could put them at risk, too.

Start with: Amazon | Bookshop.org (support independent bookstores)

 

The Cruellest Month by Hazel Holt

Hazel Holt’s The Cruellest Month

Not all of Hazel Holt’s novels are set in Oxford, but The Cruellest Month is. The rest are equally lovely, but they’re set all over the place.

In this one, an unpleasant librarian in Oxford’s New Bodleian library is murdered, leading Mrs. Malory to investigate. She’s come to town to bring her son to college, but she’s quickly swept into a rabbit hole of clues.

Start with: Amazon | Bookshop.org (support independent bookstores)

 

The Inheritance by Simon Tolkien

Simon Tolkien’s The Inheritance

If you hate the idea of nepotism, this book may put you off initially. Author Simon Tolkien, of course, is the grandson of THE J.R.R. Tolkien. Still, if you like the idea of a novel that mixes a lot of Agatha Christie with a bit of Dan Brown, give this one a look.

It begins when a notable Oxford historian is found dead at home one night, just before his son was to be cut off from an inheritance. Evidence points to the son as the killer, but he’s not the only one with a motive. An aging inspector takes up his case, travelling from England to France to unravel the family’s complicated history.

Start with: Amazon | Bookshop.org (support independent bookstores)

 

Operation Pax by Michael Innes

Michael Innes’ Operation Pax

On the outskirts of Oxford, Milton Pocorum contains all manner of unusual and potentially dangerous things. When someone disappears, it’s Milton Pocorum they suspect.

Sir John Appleby is headed to Oxford in search of his sister’s missing fiance. What he doesn’t count on is just how strange things are about to get. This mystery winds through the stacks of the Bodleian Library to the darkest corners of the city.

Start with: Amazon | Bookshop.org (support independent bookstores)

 

Dirty Tricks by Michael Dibdin

Michael Dibdin’s Dirty Tricks

If you enjoy books with nasty, unreliable narrators, put this one on your reading list. It’s the story of a middle class couple in Oxford whose lives begin to unravel when a dinner party guest seduces wife Karen.

The narrator is never named, but we know he’s a 40-year-old teacher of English as a second language. His entanglement with the couple is what kicks off the story, and he’s a right piece of work.

There’s a fair bit of social commentary in this one, so if you’re not familiar with at least the basics of British classes and politics, you may not be able to fully appreciate it without a little research.

Start with: Amazon | Bookshop.org (support independent bookstores)

 

The Mummy Case Mystery by Dermot Morrah

Dermot Morrah’s The Mummy Case Mystery

On the night of the Commemoration Ball at Oxford’s Beaufort College, there’s a strange prank with an Egyptian mummy, followed by a fire that may have killed one of the school’s professors.

When the coroner decides the death is accidental, Professors Sargent and Considine decide to investigate. This book was originally published in the 1930s, making it another classic tale from the golden age of mysteries.

Start with: Amazon | Bookshop.org (support independent bookstores)

 

A Masculine Ending by Joan Smith

Joan Smith’s A Masculine Ending

When a feminist professor stumbles upon a murdered Oxford don in Paris, she means to inform the police – but then the body disappears. She returns to England without alerting anyone, determined to solve the mystery on her own.

Originally published in 1987, it was made into a television movie with Bill Nighy and Imelda Staunton in 1992. We’ve not been able to find it on DVD or streaming, but perhaps someday it will become available for viewing.

Start with: Amazon | Bookshop.org (support independent bookstores)

 

The King’s Hounds by Martin Jensen

Martin Jensen’s The King’s Hounds Series

In 1088, the newly-crowned King Cnut of Denmark has conquered England and rules his new empire from Oxford. Meanwhile, former nobleman Halfdan is now a pauper, wandering the country aimlessly until he meets Winston the monk and accepts his offer to travel together to Oxford. Winston has been commissioned to do a painting for the new king, and he wants Halfdan to protect him on his journey.

Unfortunately, their arrival coincides with a murder – and they’re pulled into the investigation.

Start with: Amazon | Bookshop.org (support independent bookstores)

 

Blood on the Cowley Road by Peter Tickler

Peter Tickler’s Detective Susan Holden Mysteries

When a troubled young woman plunges to her death from the top of a multi-storey carpark, it seems like a simple case of suicide. DI Susan Holden certainly thinks so…until the last person she called winds up dead in the Thames (aka River Isis in some parts).

Now, DI Holden is in a race against a serial killer – and she’ll have to keep her own issues with anger management and interpersonal conflict in check.

Start with: Amazon | Bookshop.org (support independent bookstores)

 

Dead in the Morning by Margaret Yorke

Margaret Yorke’s Patrick Grant Mysteries

When a cruel, domineering old woman’s housemaid is killed, some wonder if the killer made a mistake. Dr. Patrick Grant wants to prove that’s not the case, but he’s concerned it will require him to incriminate an innocent person. Will he be able to make his case without hurting any innocent bystanders?

Start with: Dead in the Morning – Amazon | Bookshop.org (support independent bookstores)

 

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British Mystery Novels Set in Oxford, England
british mysteries set in oxford england

1 thought on “27 Brilliant British Mystery Novels Set in Oxford, England”

  1. You left out the entire series by Faith Martin. Hilary Green is the main character in Oxford and all around the area. I enjoyed the entire series immensely.

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