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Maths à mort (1990)
Margot Bruyère

This murder mystery which takes place at the IHES in Paris was originally entitled "Dis-moi qui tu aimes (je te dirai qui tu hais)". However, it has just been be republished (Fall of 2002) with a change in title by Aleas-Editeur. This new title, which she says was suggested by Alain Connes [of non-commutative geometry fame], is a play on words. It literally translates as "Math to the Death", but when pronounced it sounds like the French word for "braggart".

(Click on the picture of the cover at right for a "blowup" large enough to read.)

Presumably, the characters are particular mathematicians, whom you might recognize if you are sufficiently familiar with the IHES and its inhabitants. As explained below, the author of the book was a secretary at the IHES who began a career in writing after losing her job there. The book jacket states:

"A large peaceful park fifteen miles from Paris. Scientists inattentive and apparently inoffensive, come from the four corners of the world to explore their common passion: pure math research. Up there on the hill, the tower seems to take care of its kingdom; and then, one beautiful morning, the body of a mathematician is found lying between a chestnut and an acacia.

The reader will find in this novel an analysis of the psychology of the researchers, a bunch of anecdotes and the description of a medium little known to the general public." (Please forgive the rough translation.)

I have just (Feb 2001) received an interesting message from Eric Maldague in Paris who has additional "behind the scenes" information to add to my description of this book:

I was very surprised to read a review of Nicole's book on your website. It's amazing to think that, after 10 years, this book is still read in the US.

I've been a friend of Nicole's (or Margot Bruyère, as she chooses to be called when we refer to her books) for more than a decade now. I'm her "official" proof-reader, computer advisor, and she likes to call me "her third son".

The IHES was founded by Motchane in 1958 and Nicole was hired there in 1971. She worked with Mr Motchane only for a year, his last year at the head of the Institute. Then she worked with Mr Kuiper for 14 years, and another 2 years with the new Director. She was far more than an angry secretary actually: she was the attachee de direction of the IHES, right beneath the Director in the hierarchic scale. Two years after Kuiper ended his mandate and the new Director (whose name I can't remember) began his, he abruptly fired her. He had never liked her in fact, and he didn't even have the decency to fire her in person: he sent her a letter whilst she was at a conference in Bonn.

She had always said that when she'd have some spare time, she would like to write a book about Léon Motchane and the institute. A short while after she got fired, she made up her mind to heal her humiliation and at the same time to lead this long-time project. The mathematicians at IHES, most of whom were sorry to see her go, offered her as a departing present a Macintosh computer (quite a nice gift in fact, because at this time it cost a bit more than $4000). With it, she wrote this book in which she kills the new Director (even though her character is not the actual murderer in the book).

I really liked this book, even though it's not her best literary work. But I read it with the real names and since I knew most of the characters in real life, I found it very entertaining. She worked long hours and tried to suppress all the petty things that her anger and frustration at the time might have shown. I hope she doesn't really come out as a hateful secretary, as you mentioned in your site.

"Dis-moi qui tu aimes" (*) was indeed a small success for a first book. Encouraged by this, she kept on writing and she's about to publish her fourth novel. The third one, "L'enfant d'outre-tombe", is definitely the best she has yet produced. It has won the "Prix Bretagne". She also adapts older books and folk stories for children (one of her books for children also received a prize), and she gives lectures in Brittany where she has retired.

Voila ! I hope I didn't take too much of your time. It's just that I wanted to set the record straight.

Eric Maldague

(*) This title was devised by the publisher. Nicole's original title was "Echec et Maths", which I find a much better title.

And now I have received a message from the author herself adding a few more pieces of useful information:
Dear Professor Kasman,

Eric Maldague let me know about your correspondence concerning my book "Dis-moi que tu aimes". Actually I discovered your website simultaneously to Eric and was also surprised to have my book reviewed in [the US].

I completely agree with what Eric said and I just want to thank you for having completed your notice. I would like to add that this book was prefaced by Jacques Dixmier [a very famous French mathematician, winner of the 1993 Steele prize for his work in algebra and operator theory - ak].

"Dis-moi qui tu aimes" is out of print and the publisher decided not to reprint it. I got back the right to have it published somewhere else but I did not yet take the time to solve the question. [Note: As described above, the original publisher did decide to republish it, under the new title -ak]

Sincerely yours,

Margot Bruyère

Good news! I have heard from Mary Turner that she is currently translating this novel into English and is searching for a publisher. So, it may not be long before this mathematical mystery reaches a wider audience.

Contributed by Stephane Lafortune

Ce roman raconte l'histoire d'une enquête sur un meurtre commis dans un institut mathématique en France.

La première chose qui étonne en lisant ce livre, c’est à quel point l'auteur est capable de bien décrire le milieu mathématique. Étant moi-même un mathématicien, j'ai reconnu les traits de caractères de plusieurs de mes collègues. J'ai été ravi de lire un roman dont l'histoire se passe dans un monde que je connais bien. Je dirais donc que le contenu mathématique en tant que tel n’est pas très élevé mais que la description faite par Margot Bruyère des mathématiciens est d'une exactitude impressionnante.

On pourrait caractériser cette histoire, selon moi, en affirmant que c'est un livre qu'Agatha Christie aurait pu écrire si elle avait eu une connaissance profonde du milieu mathématique. Je dois cependant ajouter que la qualité de l'écriture est bien plus grande chez Margot Bruyère que chez Agatha Christie.

En conclusion, je recommande ce livre à tout mathématicien intéressé de voir comment leur monde est vu de l'extérieur. Je recommande aussi ce livre à tout amateur de roman policier qui voudrait lire une histoire se passant dans un environnement inhabituel.

More information about this work can be found at
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Works Similar to Maths à mort
According to my `secret formula', the following works of mathematical fiction are similar to this one:
  1. Advanced Calculus of Murder by Erik Rosenthal
  2. Calculus of Murder by Erik Rosenthal
  3. The Three Body Problem by Catherine Shaw
  4. The Fractal Murders by Mark Cohen
  5. The Library Paradox by Catherine Shaw
  6. Reality Conditions by Alex Kasman
  7. After Math by Miriam Webster
  8. The Catalyst [The Strange Attractor] by Desmond Cory
  9. Strange Attractors by Rebecca Goldstein
  10. The Beekeeper's Apprentice: Or the Segregation of the Queen by Laurie R. King
Ratings for Maths à mort:
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Mathematical Content:
1.5/5 (2 votes)
Literary Quality:
4/5 (2 votes)

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