|Trueman Bradley moves from a small midwestern town to New York City to establish himself as a private detective. At first people try to discourage him as he seems highly unqualified. Not only has he learned about detective work only through comic books, but due to his Asperger's syndrome, he is often unable to understand what people are saying or what emotions they are feeling. But, the combination of his amazing mathematical talents with the money he has inherited more than compensate for those deficiencies.
According to the cover, the author had two goals in writing this book: to offer a "positive role model and hero for those with AS" and to "help people to understand that AS is not a disability, it is a different way of thinking and not a `wrong' way of thinking."
Trueman Bradley has a great memory for facts, but is unable to understand people when they speak to him using figures of speech. He becomes completely flustered when things do not go according to plan. When he becomes frightened, he begins reciting prime numbers to comfort himself and hide from the source of his fear. But, in this novel he becomes a successful celebrity crime fighter, makes some good friends, and (possibly?) even finds a girlfriend. I can imagine that this would make him a "positive role model and hero for those with AS", but personally I cannot help but be bothered by how closely his portrayal conforms to the standard stereotype seen in other works of mathematical fiction.
As for whether this work of fiction could honestly convince a reader that AS is not a disability, it might have been able to better achieve that goal if Bradley's uses of mathematics had been more believable. From Trueman Bradley's story, one can conclude that an "aspie" with millions of dollars to toss around and magical mathematical abilities can make important to contributions to society. However, since there are not actually any people like that, it does not make a particularly convincing argument.
Let's talk about some of the math in the book:
I'm quite certain that the math in this book is literally unbelievable, which does not help with the book's stated goal of getting the reader to believe something about those with AS. I also think it misrepresents lots of things about law enforcement and criminal prosecutions. But, putting aside these complaints about its accuracy and believability, it was a fun book to read and I found myself rooting for the titular "Aspie Detective" and his team of friends. If that's part of what the author was hoping to achieve, then in that regard at least he was successful.
- Trueman likes math because it is easier to understand than people:
|(quoted from Trueman Bradley: Aspie Detective)|
I sighed and sat down on a box, to think of numbers and relax my mind. Number sequences are clear and predictable. They have patterns, and recognizing patterns is what my mind is best at. I can recognize patterns better than anyone I know. That's why math relaxes me. It's a stable, comforting world where I have confidence in myself.
- However, math is not only a source of comfort. Trueman also creates an equation (involving path integrals) that can identify a culprit given just some basic information about a crime. This is somewhat like geographic profiling, a real mathematical technique for identifying where the perpetrator in a series of crimes lives based on the locations of those crimes. But, there is not (and could not be) a technique like this one that identifies even the occupation of the criminal based on information about just a single crime:
|(quoted from Trueman Bradley: Aspie Detective)|
"Man, murdered, 620 East 13th Street, 11:15PM..."
I used the power of my mind to envision any crime-fighting equations, which had 357 variables. Although it was easy for me to do the math, it took me a few minutes to solve the equation, because there were so many variables and a lot of complex operations. Apart from he data he had given me, I had to determine the values of several hundred more variables, based on a variety of statistics I had memorized about New York City. The process was exceedingly complex and required all of my formidable powers of concentration. After a few minutes of organizing the numbers in my head, I executed the equation and calculated an answer.
"I solved it!" I said. "The murderer is a man and lives near 545 East 13th street and is currently at home. He is probably a plumber or a carpenter with a criminal history. He has a wife and family. He is an alcoholic who abuses his wife."
- Another equally ridiculous "equation" of Trueman's predicts how long it will be before someone will pass by. Using this, for example, he can be relatively certain that he has a certain number of minutes to do something without being seen. The math behind it is supposedly based on probability and the average number of people who will pass in any given time. But, that doesn't make sense because presumably the different events are independent. So, if someone passes by at a certain moment, that does not mean that it is suddenly unlikely that someone else will pass by shortly afterwards. This is a version of the Gambler's Fallacy. [Speaking of gambling,
even if he is good at counting cards, there is no way that Trueman could get a royal flush in every hand of a poker game.]
Silliest of all is the equation (turned into an app he can wear on his wrist) that tells him exactly what to do at every moment in order to achieve his goal. For example, when caught in a bad situation with some gangsters at a bar, the app tells him he must throw a drink at one gangster. As a result, he is taken to the kingpin, and following the app's advice, he insults the kingpin who sends him up with some thugs in an elevator to be killed...but then the app tells him to call a certain number and let it ring twice, which is apparently a secret message known to the thugs and he is able to escape. So the counter-intuitive advice generated by a mathematical formula he devised was able to tell him how to escape from that dangerous situation. In other words, we are essentially asked to believe that this equation is able to predict the future, including the decisions and actions of people, and select the optimal "path" to the desired outcome. (That seems to contradict Trueman's earlier remarks about numbers being more understandable than people. If such an equation really was possible, wouldn't that necessarily mean that human behavior was mathematically describable?)
- I appreciate that the author squeezed in a bit about Ulam's Spiral which allows one to see the increased concentration of prime numbers along certain straight lines when the natural numbers are arranged in a spiral grid and the squares corresponding to primes are colored in. As far as I know, this is the first (and only) time it has been mentioned in fiction. However, there is no sensible way in which that would help Trueman to visualize the location of pay phones in Manhattan, even if the number of pay phones happens to be prime.
Note: It was Vijay Fafat who told me about this work of mathematical fiction way back in 2012. However, his e-mail message arrived at an unfortunate time and was misplaced. I only rediscovered that message in 2021 and am working my way through the many suggestions it contained. I am very grateful to Vijay for the suggestion and also very sorry that it has taken me so long to act upon it.