The Dining Hall at Balliol College, Oxford University. Image courtesy of Wikipedia.

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Books That Are Set in Oxford (and Why You Should Read Them!)

The Dining Hall at Balliol College, Oxford University. Image courtesy of Wikipedia.

Oxford has served as inspiration for many a marvellous book. The reasons are not exactly a mystery; Oxford is considered by many as one of the most beautiful cities in the world. It also houses an incredibly prestigious university and has access to incredible museums and parks. 

There are several excellent books that take place in Oxford and its surroundings. If you’re visiting the city, you have recently moved here, or you are an Oxfordian, you will surely enjoy these. So, here are my favourite books set in Oxford and why you should consider reading them.

Best Books Set in Oxford

I’ve tried to include different genres into this books set in Oxford list, such as fiction, crime, and romance (Oxford is such a beautiful and atmospheric city, it can make any story memorable). I hope you find a book you love here! So, let’s get started. 

Historical Fiction Books Set in Oxford

The Dictionary of Lost Words - Pip Williams

Goodreads score: 4.04


The Dictionary of Lost Words is the debut novel by Australian writer Pip Williams. The story is set in the late 19th and early 20th centuries and follows the character Esme, who grows up in the Scriptorium, where the Oxford English Dictionary is being compiled. She discovers that many words, particularly those used by and about women, are not included in the dictionary. The novel is a celebration of words and the power of language to shape the world, and it sheds light on the lost narrative hidden in a history written by men. The book has been praised for its lyrical and deeply thought-provoking storytelling, combining historical detail with a compelling narrative. 

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Brideshead Revisited - Evelyn Waugh

Goodreads score: 3.93


Brideshead Revisited in one of Evelyn Waugh’s most nostalgic novels. It’s set in the time before the WW2, showing a rapidly changing world (and the disappearance of privilege). The story follows Charles Ryder and his enchantment, first by the Lion, Lord Sebastian Flyte and then by the Marchmains. A man overwhelmed by memories and a book that shows Oxford University in all its splendor and human complexity. 

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An Instance of the Fingerpost - Iaian Pears

Goodreads score: 4.01


An Instance of the Fingerpost is a historical fiction novel set in 1660s England. The book includes both a historical mystery and several great plot twists to keep the reader guessing. In the years after the civil war and following Cromwell’s republic, Oxford has become a place for great scientific and religious fervor. When a fellow is found dead, there are only four witnesses – and four version of what happened. The novel was first published n 1997 and continues to engage people until its last page.

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Thriller and Crime Books Set in Oxford

Heresy - S. J. Parris

Goodreads score: 3.78


Heresy is a blockbuster historical thriller set in a 16th-century Oxford University campus. The story follows Giordano Bruno, a poet, scientist, monk, and magician who’s running from the Roman Inquisition because of his believes in the the earth orbiting the sun and the universe being infinite. This gripping novel takes Bruno from London to Oxford University, where is takes part in astronomical (or religious) debates but also sees his mission thrown off-course by a series of murders.  All in all, an excellent historical thriller that perfectly represents the curious and complex spirit of Oxford.

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The Oxford Mystery - Joyce Cato (Faith Martin)

Goodreads score: 4.20


The Oxford Mystery is a book by Faith Martin, written under the pen name Joyce Cato. It is the fifth book in the Jenny Starling series, which features Jenny Starling, a traveling cook and amateur detective. The story is set in a prestigious Oxford college where Jenny has a summer cooking job, but she becomes unexpectedly entangled in a murder mystery. The book was first published as “Deadly Stuff” under Faith Martin’s pen name Joyce Cato. The author, Faith Martin, is also known for the Detective Hillary Greene mysteries. The book falls into the genre of cozy mystery.

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Gaudy Night - Dorothy L. Sayers

Goodreads score: 4.21


Gaudy Night is a classic Oxfordian book. This fiction novel takes place in all-female Shrewsbury College, Oxford, where Harriet Vane is invited to attend the annual Gaudy celebration. The mood soon turns sour, though, as we’re faced with vandalism, poison-pen messages, and obscene graffiti. The writing is simply fantastic, and the mystery complex and rich. A perfect choice if you’re looking for a book that does not confuse you with false clues but invites you to use logic and find truth yourself. 

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The Moving Toyshop - Edmund Crispin

Goodreads score: 3.77


In The Moving Toyshop, a holiday in Oxford turns into a mystery-solving adventure. This book, first published in 1946, is filled with dangerous and unexpected twists and turns. It all begins with a body in a toyshop and its surprise turn into a grocery shop! Can this poet and an old university friend solve the mystery?

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The Oxford Murders - Guillermo Martínez

Goodreads score: 3.34


In The Oxford Murders, two mathematicians (a young graduate student and a logician) have to join forces to stop a serial killer. The first victim? An elderly woman who had helped cracked the enigma Code, sued in WW2. Soon, the murders start piling up and the unexpected pair begins to see a pattern behind the killer’s symbolism. This novel will keep you guessing, even though some red herrings can seem a little obvious if you’re familiar with the genre. There’s also a movie about the book, if you’re interested in a more visual approach. 

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Fantasy and Science Fiction Books Set in Oxford

The Bone Season - Samantha Shannon

Goodreads score: 3.79


It’s the year 2059 and a young clairvoyant woman is scouting for information by breaking into people’s minds. She’s a dreamwalker, and in this world, her mere existence means treason. In the novel, Paide is kidnapped and taken to Oxford, a city which has been kept a secret for over two-hundred years and is controlled by a mysterious outwordly group. Then, she is assigned to a trainer. If she wants to regain her freedom, she will have to accept her fate. The book shows a compelling heroine and interesting world-building with Oxford at its center. 

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The Golden Compass (His Dark Materials) - Philip Pullman

Goodreads score: 4.02


His Dark Materials is a trilogy of fantasy novels by Philip Pullman, consisting of “Northern Lights” (published as “The Golden Compass” in North America), “The Subtle Knife,” and “The Amber Spyglass.” The story is set in a multiverse and follows the coming-of-age of two children, Lyra Belacqua and Will Parry, as they navigate parallel worlds and grapple with questions of morality, consciousness, and the nature of existence. The series has been adapted into a television series by HBO. The novels have been praised for their richly imagined world and thought-provoking narrative. 

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To Say Nothing of the Dog - Connie Willis

Goodreads score: 4.11


This novel has won many science fiction award, including Hugo and Nebula. A time-travel adventure with brilliant comedic elements, To Say Nothing of the Dog follows 21st century student Ned Henry, who takes a relaxing trip to Victorian English. However, love, boats, and cats can turn this adventure into a threat to the course of history. The book is a wonderful composite of well-written and clever phrases and a fitting tribute to Jerome K Jerome’s Three Men in a Boat. 

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