Every Contact Leaves a Trace by Elanor Dymott

Even before the story started, I suspected I would enjoy this murder story. First the title is explained in a quote (in French) from the father of forensic science, Edmond Locard. Then “A note for the reader” explains that a friend of the narrator is a cartographer, who drew several maps relating to the story: “Readers who wish to consult the map will find it on page 372.”

I turned to it straight away, and was captivated by a map of Worcester College that looks as if it could be included in an Oxford version of Cluedo.

The story is told by Alex, a lawyer who has found the battered body of his wife Rachel at Worcester.

They were both students there in the 1990s, and had returned for an alumni event. Alex is immediately arrested, but later released when his version of events is backed up by other witnesses and CCTV footage.

But this is more than a simple crime story. Rachel was part of an elite, incestuous group of English students watched from afar by Alex and his fellow law student Richard, who are revising key facts and learning logic while the humanities students escape into the dream world of literature.

One of the keys to the book comes when Rachel tells Alex about her Oxford interview: “It was just a conversation about stories and how to tell them.”

As Locard’s principle suggests, no one is in possession of the full facts of this crime — just as readers can never really trust the narrator of a story. It is apparent early on that Alex scarcely knew his wife, but readers must rely on his own unreliable memory, and that of others.

As in all decent detective stories, we suspect first one person, then another — including the narrator. Dymott builds up suspense, then returns to the story of love and grief at the core of this book, before sending us deep into another mystery. This cleverly creepy crime story transcends its genre with delightful literary twists.