MATHEMATICAL FICTION:

a list compiled by Alex Kasman (College of Charleston)

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Math is Murder (2012)
Robert C. Brigham / James B. Reed
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This is a murder mystery co-written by an emeritus math professor and a retired crime scene investigator. The victim was an egotistical and (almost unbelievably) unpleasant mathematics department chair who seems to have resolved a famous (fictional) conjecture:

(quoted from Math is Murder)

And hepped up I am. I simply can't control my excitement. Filled with awe, I reread the mesage. "Isn't that something? To think Ken did it. He really did it!"

"Did what? What's the big deal?" Tom sounds pretty disgusted.

"He proved the Collins Conjecture, damn it. Can't you read?" Perhaps enthusiasm causes me to be the tiniest bit indiscrete.

"What the hell is the Collins Conjecture?"

"Yes, Jim," interposes Donna, "Tell me, too."

Finally I remember I'm the only mathematician in the room, so I start to explain. "Andrew Collins is a mathematician, now retired I think. About 30 years ago he defined and investigated a new mathematical structure, examining over 100 special cases of it. In every one of those cases he found that two of the involved variables were related in a precise manner, and he conjectured in a paper that this was always the case. He never was able to prove the result in general."

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"So, do you think his work here could have anything to do with his murder?"

"How would I know, Tom? I kind of doubt it, but he did announce it on the same day he was killed, so maybe."

"Well, Jim, maybe that makes what I brought for you even more important." Tom digs into his briefcase and produces a stack of about 15 sheets of paper. "This is a copy of what was on Dr. Salter's desk. One sheet was separate from the rest so I left it on top. The paper is full of mathematics. What can you tell me about it?"

The book then contains an image of the handwritten conclusion to the proof (using contradiction to prove one of three cases), stained with the victim's blood.

Certainly, the authors have qualifications to get the mathematical and forensic details right. In fact, I would say that the passages which convey general information about academia and criminology are the best thing about the book. When it elaborates on the steps an investigator takes to avoid contaminating a crime scene (right down to how difficult it is for a large man to put on the booties) or on how a really great math professor would respond to questions from his students so as to draw the answer out of them rather than simply give it to them, the reader can really feel that he/she is learning from an expert. If you think you might be interested in those sorts of details (and the fact that one never knows what might be a clue to solving the mystery makes it even easier to pay attention), then I can strongly recommend this book.

The writing itself is uneven. Of course, the mystery genre is not known for its beautiful prose. The fact that everything is described rather bluntly does give the book a sort of "hard-boiled pulp detective novel" feeling. (At the end, it feels a bit more like an old "Encyclopedia Brown" mystery, as the narrator begins communicating directly with the readers, asking whether we had reached the same conclusions as "our heroes".) However, even given the low expectations set by the genre, some sections of the book really seem like they would benefit from some serious editing.

And, then, there is the mystery itself. I am glad that, as the cover promised, this was a mystery that the reader could solve using clues that were presented in the book itself. (I always feel cheated when the solution of the mystery depends on a fact not revealed until the end!) And, as with any good mystery, there is a good assortment of suspects with reasonable motives. However, the main clue is one that appears early in the book and was a bit too obvious to me. So, I knew who the killer was long before the narrator, which made much of the intervening investigation seem like a waste of time. Moreover, I found a few of the coincidences (e.g. a false lead that would seem to have suggested another killer and an IT guy who just happened to have had a job at another relevant institution before, ...) to be a bit too hard to believe.

In conclusion, I would say that this book is not bad. If you are looking for a pleasant read, with lots of interesting characters, and especially a relatively realistic and detailed portrayal of the jobs of a police officer and a math professor, then this book may be worth your time. If, on the other hand, you want either a great work of literature or a very clever and challenging enigma of a murder mystery that all fits together in the end, then (in my humble opinion), you may want to look elsewhere.

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(Note: This is just one work of mathematical fiction from the list. To see the entire list or to see more works of mathematical fiction, return to the Homepage.)

Works Similar to Math is Murder
According to my `secret formula', the following works of mathematical fiction are similar to this one:
  1. The Math Code by Alex Kasman
  2. The Fractal Murders by Mark Cohen
  3. The Four-Color Puzzle: Falling Off the Map by Lior Samson
  4. The Oxford Murders by Guillermo Martinez
  5. The Three Body Problem by Catherine Shaw
  6. No One You Know by Michelle Richmond
  7. A Killer Theorem by Colin Adams
  8. Secrets to the Grave by Tami Hoag
  9. Murder, She Conjectured by Alex Kasman
  10. The Square Root of Murder by Ada Madison
Ratings for Math is Murder:
RatingsHave you seen/read this work of mathematical fiction? Then click here to enter your own votes on its mathematical content and literary quality or send me comments to post on this Webpage.
Mathematical Content:
4/5 (1 votes)
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Literary Quality:
3/5 (1 votes)
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Categories:
GenreMystery,
MotifAnti-social Mathematicians, Academia, Proving Theorems, Math Education,
TopicFictional Mathematics,
MediumNovels,

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(Maintained by Alex Kasman, College of Charleston)