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The Theory of Death (2015)
Faye Kellerman

The apparent suicides of a math student and math professor at Kneed Loft College are investigated by a detective, his wife, and a former detective now studying law. It was sufficiently engrossing and kept me both reading and liking the characters through to the end, which is all one generally asks of a murder mystery.

This novel, one of many in the Decker/Lazarus series, does discuss math and stereotypes of math frequently. Through her characters, the author tries several times to explain the basic ideas behind Fourier analysis, Fourier transforms and eigenvectors, the tools of the trade for the victims and the prime suspects. Some of the ideas are conveyed accurately, but others (like the concept of an eigenvector, which is incorrectly defined repeatedly) are not. In any case, although these ideas are "part of the scenery" in this mystery, they do not play an otherwise important role.

The interpersonal dynamics and general "goings on" in this math department are more relevant to the plot. The professors are shown to be working on interesting research projects with the students (including some applied projects involving investment banking and the mapping of debris in low Earth orbits). Perhaps it is understandable that for the sake of the plot, the conflict between the faculty (especially over who gets to work with which students) and the anti-social nature of people in math are both exaggerated, but I did occasionally find it annoying. (It was also sometimes funny to me when the author would get something wrong, such as the way the students kept talking about working in different professors' "labs" and theoretical mathematicians spoke of their "data". That just isn't the terminology we use.)

The character of Mordecai Gold, a Harvard math professor, who appeared in an earlier Decker/Lazarus novel to help with a decryption problem, plays a small role in this novel as well.

In summary, I can recommend this book to fans of the mystery genre who enjoy a mathematical backdrop for the action. However, one should not expect the representation of math and mathematicians to be either accurate or enlightening.

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Works Similar to The Theory of Death
According to my `secret formula', the following works of mathematical fiction are similar to this one:
  1. The Three Body Problem by Catherine Shaw
  2. The Square Root of Murder by Ada Madison
  3. The Devotion of Suspect X [YĆ“gisha X no kenshin] by Keigo Higashino
  4. Advanced Calculus of Murder by Erik Rosenthal
  5. Elementary (Episode: Solve for X) by Jerry Levine (director) / Jeffrey Paul King (screenplay)
  6. The Four-Color Puzzle: Falling Off the Map by Lior Samson
  7. Math is Murder by Robert C. Brigham / James B. Reed
  8. The Fractal Murders by Mark Cohen
  9. Calculus of Murder by Erik Rosenthal
  10. Secrets to the Grave by Tami Hoag
Ratings for The Theory of Death:
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:
3/5 (1 votes)
Literary Quality:
3/5 (1 votes)

MotifAnti-social Mathematicians, Academia, Female Mathematicians, Math Education,
TopicAnalysis/Calculus/Differential, Mathematical Finance,

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(Maintained by Alex Kasman, College of Charleston)