Kolczynski, Adam - 'The Oxford Virus'
THE OXFORD VIRUS is the first novel by young author Adam Kolczynski, set in contemporary Oxford.The novel opens with the unfolding of a disastrous cutting edge medical research project carried out by Dr Olembe. Dr Olembe is the medical expert at the Lorenex Biotherapeutics company, who seeks to cure cancer by virotherapy. The first human trial subject, terminally ill Delia Holdenby, dies shortly after the experimental treatment, leaving Olembe in a rather precarious legal position. The narrative perspective then changes, featuring career academic Zolotov, hero of the novel.
Zolotov is Professor of Russian Studies at the fictional Clapperton College of Oxford University, aided by his glamorous research assistant, Rena Figueroa. Zolotov often gives informal help to Inspector Dardai of the Thames Valley Police, as the eyes and ears of academic Oxford and it is Inspector Dardai who is in charge of the investigation into Delia's death. When an elderly academic who knew Delia is found dead in mysterious circumstances due to a Warfarin overdose, Zolotov's suspicions are aroused that there may be a connection between the two deaths.
Although starting off as scientific thriller, THE OXFORD VIRUS soon shifts gear, becoming more of an academic satire veering into the amateur sleuth/cozy territory. The depiction of Oxford rings very true, with its international flavour at postgraduate level, academic pretensions, and at times rarefied atmosphere abstracted from mundane reality. Zolotov is an intriguing character - he is a dissident emigre, and former failed medical student who has found his niche in the ivory towers of Oxford, though as ever in amateur sleuth novels, it does tend to be slightly incredible that the sleuth gets such easy access to the investigation. The author derives humour from the culture clash between Zolotov's Soviet background and upbringing and his adaptation to the British way of life. The character of Dr Olembe, and the virotherapy theme are, slightly frustratingly, underdeveloped by comparison to the academia theme, despite being just as interesting. Overall, THE OXFORD VIRUS is an engaging modern take on the cozy, combining academic satire with the contemporary theme of cutting edge medical research.
Laura Root, England
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