The Oxford Inheritance: A Novel by Ann A. McDonald

Reviewed by Caryn St. Clair

The Oxford InheritanceCassie Blackwell, a Smith College student, has come to Raleigh College at Oxford University for her sophomore year abroad. Although the obvious reason for her journey is an exciting year of study at one of the world’s premiere universities, Cassie has another motivation. After receiving a box of her mother’s possessions, Cassie is determined to uncover the life her mother led before Cassie’s birth. A life that apparently ended when she left Oxford.

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When the book opens, Cassie has just arrived on campus and has to hurry around to get to her orientation, mandatory photographs and try to settle in to her new room. We know nothing of what brought Cassie to Oxford except that she has won a prized seat in the class. Right away we meet some of the other characters from fellow students to professors, who will be major players throughout the book.

It is through her quest for her mother’s past that readers become familiar with Cassie’s childhood, her life with a bipolar mother who couldn’t care for herself little lone her child. We learn of her personal struggles that led her not only back to school but drove her to excel-all so that she could make this trip to Oxford. We sit with Cassie in the bowels of the library as she searches for photos and other information of about her mother’s time here.

The book appears to be an academic mystery for most of the book. The author puts the reader squarely in the day to day life of the college and does a fairly good job of giving readers a sense of the class distinctions among the students. But even early on there is a definite sense of foreboding. There are hints along the way that not everyone nor everything is as presented. There is a darkness that lingers.

The Oxford Inheritance is a difficult book to review without giving away some of the main plot twists. The turn in the story comes when someone close to Cassie commits suicide and Cassie realizes that the behavior leading up to the suicide mirrors her own mother’s before her death by suicide. This realization makes Cassie even more determined to figure out what is really going on at Raleigh College. The book would be classified as “Gothic” I suppose, although I didn’t really find it to be that exactly. I’d say it’s more of a traditional academic mystery with a Stephen King ending. However it is categorized, it is a compelling read.

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