|A police psychologist attending a conference in Cambridge, England is pulled into an unsolved murder mystery by her mathematician boyfriend. An important theme of the story is the oppresive sexism that discouraged women from entering the field of mathematics in the 19th century.
A more thorough description of the story is contained in the following contribution from a visitor to this site, but I must warn you that it contains spoilers. In particular, it gives away the solution of the mystery. So, if you'd like to try to solve the mystery for yourself, you should probably read the story before reading the description below.
Murder, She Conjectured is a story about Beth and Trevor, two Americans, visiting England (Cambridge). They go on a mathematical tour and among other things they also visit a museum dedicated to the 19th century professor Graeme Clifton. There, Beth reads an article about Clifton's wife Heather, who was killed. Trevor gives her some additional information (Graeme published a paper after Heather's death, after that he was no longer capable of doing mathematics). Beth gets interested in the unsolved murder and becomes a detective for a few days.
[The murder] story serves “only” as a frame to a bigger story. The story inside a frame is about women mathematicians in the 19th century. For a few moments the author (Kasman) takes us back into the 19th century and lets us see what was it like to be a woman mathematician in those days. We learn that women were not allowed to get a degree in mathematics. Some had to leave their countries and move to the US. It was almost impossible to be a woman mathematician in the 19th century! The society thought that mathematics is for men only. Women were obviously not good enough, not smart enough, or not intelligent enough. Maybe men were afraid of women being smarter and more “powerful” than they were. I know that at that time women writers had to use male names to be able to publish their books. It is a fact that women were not equal to men. “Murder, she conjectured” is a lovely story talking about this fact.
The story is fictional, but it makes you wonder, how many similar cases have happened in real life. I don’t mean the murder, but women using men to publish their work. I’m very pleased to know that things have changed by now and it is not so hard to be a woman mathematician any more.
Even though Heather Blaine and Graeme Clifton and their “theorem” are fictional, the brief histories of Emmy Noether and Charlotte Angas Scott mentioned in the story are true. The sad fact is that talented female mathematicians were sometimes kept away from mathematics by a society that considered it an inappropriate activity for a woman. (It is said that the parents of Sophie Germain (1776–1831) deprived her of candles and heat at night to ensure that she did not stay up studying mathematics.) Fortunately, the situation is improving. A visit to the Website of the Association for Women in Mathematics will provide any interested reader both with additional historical information and resources to help women in mathematical careers today.
Tina S. Chang|
This is a wonderful piece of fiction, an intriguing fun read with realistic characters. While the murderer is not really a mystery, there is the sincere question as to how one might prove the murderer is guilty. I especially liked the mathematical rather than forensic ending to the piece.
For those who have read the story: the speed at which a mathematician can check a proof is quite exaggerated. In other respects I felt the mathematics/history were quite believable.