Death on the Cherwell: it’s worth reading this book for the title alone — and is a reminder that Colin Dexter does not have the monopoly on crime fiction set in Oxford.

First published in 1935, and now reprinted by the British Library, this wonderful book by Mavis Doriel Hay concerns the death of the bursar of Persephone College. The hated bursar is found drowned in her canoe by four students who had formed a secret society to lay a curse on her.

The principal of the college wants to avoid bad publicity at all costs, and the police are assuming her death was the result of a student prank gone wrong, so the four Persephone girls launch their own investigation to find out how ‘Burse’ met her watery end. Hay was herself an Oxford undergraduate — at St Hilda’s College — from 1913 to 1916, so knows what she is talking about when it comes to the geography of Oxford, and the language and attitudes of the times.

The rollers by the river, the Corn and the Broad, the girls’ annoyance at the Oxford Mail referring to them as ‘undergraduettes’, the etiquette around a man coaching a female student, and the extensive deceits that were woven to maintain respectability: all feature in this simple but engaging book.

Inspector Morse it is not, but it is a charming crime novel, easily digested, and a delightful example of the Golden Age of detective fiction.

Philippa Logan