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Dark Matter: The Private Life of Sir Isaac Newton (2002)
Philip Kerr

Contributed by Vijay Fafat

A multiple-murder mystery which outlandishly casts Newton in the role of Sherlock Holmes during his tenure as Warden at the British Royal Mint (Watson is played Christopher Ellis, nephew of mathematician William Wallace).

Newton is hot on the trail of coin counterfeiters, till the chase turns murderous, with each victim's body displaying a coded message. The messages turn out to be substitution ciphers with modifications to make them difficult to decipher (the sequence +1, -1, +1, -1… makes an appearance). Newton solves it and all is well (except for the murder victims and the criminals)

Some excerpts:

  • Newton: “All ciphers, if they are properly formed and systematic, are subject to mathematics, and what mathematics has made obscure, mathematics will also render visible”
  • Newton: “I can assure you, Ellis, that (Brachistochrone problem) was no mere exercise, as you describe it. When no man in Europe could provide a solution, I solved it.”
  • Newton: “Upon his (Occam's) razorlike maxim we shall cut this case into exactly two halves. Fetch me some cider. My head has a sudden need for apples”
  • “He is a scholar of real worth, for I have seen him extracting square roots without pen and paper, to seven places”, Ellis said. “I have seen a horse clap its hoof upon the ground seven times,” remarked Newton, “but I do not think it was a mathematician”.
  • Newton bowed deeply. “Doctor Wallis, I was not able to find anything general in quadratures, until I had understood your own work on infintesimals”

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GenreHistorical Fiction, Mystery,
MotifReal Mathematicians, Newton,

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(Maintained by Alex Kasman, College of Charleston)