MATHEMATICAL FICTION:

a list compiled by Alex Kasman (College of Charleston)

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The Body Counter (2018)
Anne Frasier
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Detective Jude Fontaine must stop a pathological killer whose murder sprees are dictated by the Fibonacci sequence.

Fontaine is known for her ability to read people. (She often can tell when people are lying to her, and at one point "pulls a Sherlock" by figuring out where her neighbor came from based on the smell of his breath and his shirt and the small leaf in his hair.) She is also known to everyone in the Twin Cities where this book takes place as the victim who was tortured for years before killing her kidnapper. These things are known from the start as they are the basis for the award-winning The Body Reader to which this is the sequel.

There is no obvious connection to math in the first 59 pages of the book where we learn about the brutal murder of three strangers in a movie theater who had their throats cut during a film. But then, a stereotypical math professor character shows up with a strange theory:

(quoted from The Body Counter)

He had light brown hair, thin on top, hand-smoothed to one side, the strands having a suspicious shine that added to the overall impression of unwashed and lack of awareness....

"How do you spell your name?"

"M-A-S-U-C-C-I. Professor Massuci. Everybody always spells it wrong. First name Albert."

"It is an unusual name. Why exactly are you here, Professor Masucci?"

"I've solved your case." The sentence was spoken with assurance.

...

Jude turned back to Professor Masucci. "Tell me what you know."

"It's all about numbers." He blinked several times, as if trying to hide behind his eyelids.

"We think the killings are somewhat opportunistic," she told him, without going into the planning that must have been involved in the latest event. Not for him to know.

He shook his head in agitation. "The killer is using the Fibonacci sequence." He went on to talk about spirals and harmonics and asymmetry and something called Benford's law.

She held up one hand. "I'm not that great at math."

Despite the distance, [her male partner] had managed to listen in, and he now rolled his chair closer. "It's the sequence of ever-increasing numbers found in nature. You know. Sunflowers, shells, leaves, dragonfly wings. The Fibonacci sequence can even be found in fingerprints."

"Yes." Professor Masucci leaned forward, relaxing a little, eager to explain more. "The beginning numbers are 0, 1, 1, 2, 3. And you've had four crime scenes with body counts that follow that sequence." He leaned back. "Fibonacci."

That seems like a rather huge leap of logic, since there was not at this point any clear connection to previous crimes and because even if there were there is no obvious reason to assume that the number of victims in futures crimes will continue to be governed by the sequence a1=0, a2=1 and an=an-1+an-2 for n>2. Moreover, this observation hardly seems like it has "solved the case". But, (as I will explain in greater detail below after a "spoiler alert"), Masucci does turn out to be correct, five bodies are found at the next crime scene, and Masucci does eventually identify the murderer.

There are other non-mathematical storylines which held my interest. Fontaine herself is still recovering from her ordeal in the first novel in the series. Her partner has medical problems. Her mysterious downstairs neighbor seems a bit too interested in her. And her cat, "roof cat", runs away. But, the murder mystery and its connection to math is clearly the main plot. Unfortunately, the author does not do anything even remotely interesting with the math and promotes annoying stereotypes.

I kept hoping that some additional mathematical twist would arise. For instance, the mysterious phrase "All I seek is already within me" is left at the crime scene and I tried to imagine how that might be a mathematical clue. But, in fact, there really is not much to the math aside from the idea that the number of victims in the nth crime would be an.

From the point of view of mathematical fiction, the ideas and stereotypes presented are tired and unimaginative. (Just a month ago, I reviewed The Lost Empire, another work in which the only mathematical content was the Fibonacci sequence. Furthermore, in both of these works a female character claims complete ignorance of math and a male character has to explain it to her.) This novel also irritates me by dwelling on the overused stereotype of the "crazy mathematician". In fact, it turns out that Professor Masucci was fired by the University of Minnesota years ago for spouting nonsense during his lectures. The faculty and the students humor him in his delusion that he still works there. A student doing yard work behind Masucci's building rhetorically asks the question "What is it about math that makes people lose it?" Fontaine, who is generally portrayed as being extremely cynical and skeptical, does not question this association at all:

(quoted from The Body Counter)

Jude thought about what the kid in the yard had said about math and an unstable mind. And she wondered which came first.

As you see, in this book it is taken as an unquestioned fact that there is causal link between mathematics and insanity. Fontaine isn't sure whether math causes insanity or whether insane people are drawn to math, but she is sure that it is one or the other. (Dear site visitor, please be skeptical about that claim, both in reality and in this fictional universe of this book where just about every character is "crazy" in one way or another, and yet the mathematician characters are singled out for this stereotype.)

Anyway, we've gotten to the point that I cannot really say any more without revealing the ending. So, if you plan to read the book for pleasure, please stop reading this review now.


Warning: Spoilers Below!
Warning: Spoilers Below!
Warning: Spoilers Below!
So, although it is around page 60 that Professor Masucci first suggests that the murderer is someone who is interested in the Fibonacci sequence, and although the police keep asking him if he can think of anyone in particular who it might be, it is not until page 241 that he remembers having a student named "Leo Pisa". As Masucci explains, this individual is very suspicious not only because his name is similar to that of the mathematician after whom the sequence is named:

(quoted from The Body Counter)

"I used to have a student who was obsessed with the Fibonacci sequence. One day he seemed to have an epiphany and started writing what he thought was an equation, filling the chalkboard in the front of the room. Nobody understood, not even me. But the gist was that Fibonacci equals death."

And, that's it. Of course, they still have to catch him and there's excitement and drama...but Masucci did "solve" the mystery. No additional information is provided to explain this seemingly nonsensical equation "Fibonacci=Death". So, presumably Leo Pisa is crazy, like Masucci, as well as being evil. He is described as being handsome and charismatic; it seems at first that he the mastermind behind the murders who whose cult-like followers actually commit the crimes for him, but Jude realizes even before he does that this is not true, that it was one of his supposed "followers" who was really always the leader from the start. So the two primary mathematician characters, Pisa and Masucci, are both pathetic and crazy, though only one is evil. (Masucci's department chair makes a brief appearance and she is at least portrayed as being somewhat normal even if a bit boring.)

This book gets rave reviews on Amazon from readers who really like the dark and twisted world it portrays. However, I do not enjoy it as a mystery. I mean, if Masucci did not remember his student Leo Pisa's "equation" connecting Fibonacci with death, then his conjecture that the murders were linked to the Fibonacci sequence was just a lucky guess. Or, if he did, then it is really frustrating that he doesn't mention the suspect's identity to the police until after many more people have been killed. And, regardless, it was the information provided by this one crazy individual and not clever logical deduction on the part of the detective which solved the case. Moreover, as a work of mathematical fiction I am afraid it is not very good at all both because the mathematical content is lame and because it perpetuates unfair stereotypes of mathematicians. Consequently, I cannot really recommend it for those who like to see math in the novels that they read.

Buy this work of mathematical fiction and read reviews at amazon.com. Amazon.com logo
(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 The Body Counter
According to my `secret formula', the following works of mathematical fiction are similar to this one:
  1. Lost Empire (A Sam and Remi Fargo Adventure) by Clive Cussler / Grant Blackwood
  2. Secrets to the Grave by Tami Hoag
  3. The Theory of Death by Faye Kellerman
  4. Strip Search by William Bernhardt
  5. Math is Murder by Robert C. Brigham / James B. Reed
  6. The Devotion of Suspect X [Yôgisha X no kenshin] by Keigo Higashino
  7. Bianca by Nanni Moretti (director and screenplay)
  8. Fermat's Room (La Habitacion de Fermat) by Luis Piedrahita / Rodrigo Sopeña
  9. Touch-Me-Not by Cynthia Riggs
  10. The Square Root of Murder by Ada Madison
Ratings for The Body Counter:
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:
2/5 (1 votes)
..

Categories:
GenreMystery,
MotifEvil mathematicians, Anti-social Mathematicians, Insanity, Academia,
TopicAlgebra/Arithmetic/Number Theory,
MediumNovels,

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(Maintained by Alex Kasman, College of Charleston)