a list compiled by Alex Kasman (College of Charleston)

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And Be a Villain (1948)
Rex Stout
(click on names to see more mathematical fiction by the same author)

Contributed by "William E. Emba"

Rex Stout and his seventy some Nero Wolfe novels are generally regarded as amongst the greatest mystery novels ever written. They read as fresh today as when the series started in 1934, and they can pretty much be read in any order. The plot of AND BE A VILLAIN centers around a cyanide poisoning that had happened during a live radio talkshow broadcast, a few days before the novel opens. The victim was a race track bookie. Also present at the crime scene was a mathematician, to provide expert commentary on probability, and some respectability for the show to even dare have a bookie on air. (But to the reader, the mathematician is mostly to provide comic relief.) When Nero Wolfe interviews the mathematician, the latter launches into an uninterruptible spiel about how he always wanted to apply probability theory to detective work, and talks math for a bit, going so far as to write out the "second approximation to the normal distribution", which Archie Goodwin, the novel's narrator, reproduces. Apparently Archie doesn't know what a square root symbol is, since what should be a sqrt(2.pi.D) comes out as V.2.pi.D. (It appears Stout did his homework, so either his printer got it wrong, or Stout engaged in an inside joke for mathematicians only.)

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Works Similar to And Be a Villain
According to my `secret formula', the following works of mathematical fiction are similar to this one:
  1. After Math by Miriam Webster
  2. Death of a Doxy by Rex Stout
  3. The Visiting Professor by Robert Littell
  4. The Murdered Mathematician by Harry Stephen Keeler
  5. The Barking Clock by Harry Stephen Keeler / Hazel Goodwin Keeler
  6. Mangum, P.I. by Colin Adams
  7. Dalrymple’s Equation by Paul Fairman
  8. The Use of Geometry in the Modern Novel by Norman Clarke
  9. The Zero Clue by Rex Stout
  10. The Jester and the Mathematician by Alan R. Gordon
Ratings for And Be a Villain:
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:
2/5 (2 votes)
Literary Quality:
4/5 (2 votes)

GenreMystery, Humorous,

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Exciting News: The 1,600th entry was recently added to this database of mathematical fiction! Also, for those of you interested in non-fictional math books let me (shamelessly) plug the recent release of the second edition of my soliton theory textbook.

(Maintained by Alex Kasman, College of Charleston)