a list compiled by Alex Kasman (College of Charleston)

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The Fractal Murders (2001)
Mark Cohen
Highly Rated!

In this award winning (Top Ten Mysteries on the Book Sense 76 Fall List for 2002) mystery novel "Hard-Boiled" Detective Pepper Keane is hired by a tall and attractive math professor (with whom he of course eventually starts a romantic relationship) who is concerned about the deaths of three of her colleagues. Although the FBI concludes that the deaths are unrelated, she is convinced that these three mathematicians were murdered because of their knowledge of fractal geometry.

There is only a bit of mathematics in the story, but what is there is pretty good. The discussion of fractals is better than what appears in most "fractal fiction". The book actually discusses fractals as geometric objects with non-integer dimension, even though the explanation of what this means is not quite correct. It even mentions Hausdorff dimension, though stops short of actually defining it. Moreover, the idea of "intrinsic time" which eventually becomes relevant to the plot is interesting and somewhat believable. I cannot quite forgive the author for having a character answer the question "Who was Gauss?" with "He was a statistician." [To me, this is like answering "Who was Thomas Alva Edison?" with "An electrician from New Jersey."] However, as fiction by non-mathematicians goes, this one does a pretty good job of presenting mathematics. Even better, it does a great job of presenting academia, what it is like to be a math professor and do math research.

I also give it very high ratings as a mystery, a genre I am generally very critical of, because it achieved the difficult goal of being clever enough to keep me from figuring out the solution too early even though all of the clues were really there.

The writing style, however, did not completely appeal to me. In fact, I did not read this book for a long time since the first chapter was available as a free download and I really disliked the first chapter. However, once I had a printed copy of the book and could read far enough into it to learn to like the character and be interested in the mystery, I was hooked. It was a book that kept me up "past my bedtime", not because I wanted to get it over with, but because I was really enjoying it!

The author, Mark Cohen, has put much of himself in the book. Like the detective, he was a JAG who left the military to live in Nederland, CO and pursue civilian career (in his case, however it is as a judge rather than as a PI). He attended Whitman College in Walla Walla, where one of the murders takes place. Moreover, he has essentially self-published this book. At first, it was available in paperback format only at his Muddy Gap Press website (where you can also read the first chapter of the novel for free, though I insist that the book was much better than this first chapter initially led me to believe).

Contributed by Anonymous site visitor

An amusing mystery that will enable non- mathematicians to understand the geometry of nature that is all around us. Very enjoyable.

Note (May 2004): The book has just been reissued in a nice new hardcover edition!

Pointless observation: By coincidence, Death Qualified: A Mystery of Chaos" has a superficially similar plot.

Note (October 2005): The sequel Bluetick Revenge is now available and still features mathematician Jayne as a supporting character. However, other than mentioning that she is in China giving lectures on fractal geometry (incorrectly described as the "study of irregular patterns"), there is no explicit math. (Mathematical note: Fractals may or may not be "irregular". Sierpinski's fractals are about as regular as patterns get, but they are still fractals because they are "fractional dimensional". The technical definition of "Fractal" has to do with the Hausdorff Dimension of a geometric object. If it's Hausdorff Dimension is fractional, then it is a fractal!) Anyway, I will not be giving Bluetick Revenge its own entry on the list. Still, those who enjoyed reading the first novel are likely to enjoy the second and so it is highly recommended.

Contributed by Melanie Wingard

I really enjoyed this, both as a mystery novel and as informative about fractals. As a high school math teacher, I can see this as a book some of my students might actually enjoy.

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Works Similar to The Fractal Murders
According to my `secret formula', the following works of mathematical fiction are similar to this one:
  1. The Oxford Murders by Guillermo Martinez
  2. Mangum, P.I. by Colin Adams
  3. Math is Murder by Robert C. Brigham / James B. Reed
  4. Strip Search by William Bernhardt
  5. NUMB3RS by Nick Falacci / Cheryl Heuton
  6. The Three Body Problem by Catherine Shaw
  7. The Visiting Professor by Robert Littell
  8. Cardano and the Case of the Cubic by Jeff Adams
  9. Advanced Calculus of Murder by Erik Rosenthal
  10. Death Qualified: A Mystery of Chaos by Kate Willhelm
Ratings for The Fractal Murders:
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:
3.8/5 (5 votes)
Literary Quality:
3.8/5 (5 votes)

MotifFemale Mathematicians,
TopicChaos/Fractals, Mathematical Finance,

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(Maintained by Alex Kasman, College of Charleston)