MATHEMATICAL FICTION:

a list compiled by Alex Kasman (College of Charleston)

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Murder at Queen's Landing (2021)
Andrea Penrose
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This is the fourth in a series of books in which romance sparks between Wrexford (a chemist) and Sloan (an artist) while they solve mysteries in Regency-era England. In this one, the mystery involves the math tutor of Sloan's adopted children. It turns out that she is a brilliant mathematician and that she is working with an eccentric professor on a mechanical device for automating mathematical computation.

Of course, the elderly professor and young mathematician are (very loosely) based upon Charles Babbage and Ada Lovelace. But, aside from their demographic similarities and the fact that they are working on a computational engine, the characters of Professor Sudler and Lady Cordelia have little in common with the historical figures who inspired them.

A mathematical connection shows up early in the novel when Wrexford and his best friend Sheffield are searching for clues relating to the titular murder on Queen's Landing:

(quoted from Murder at Queen's Landing)

[Wrexford] carefully cleared away the mathematical calculations and began to page through a set of intricate mechanical drawings. Some showed a close-up of a specific part, while others appeared to depict sections of a complex assembly of gears, levers, and numbered disks. As for the margins, they were covered in a hodgepodge of complicated mathematical equations.

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"Hmmph." Wrexford spread out the drawings and studied them for a moment longer. "It appears to be the plans for some sort of...machine."

"For adding and subtracting numbers?" said Sheffield after a long look. "Wouldn't that be a godsend."

When Earl Wrexford makes inquiries as to who might be able to help understand these mechanical plans, he is directed to seek out Sudler:

(quoted from Murder at Queen's Landing)

"But I have too warn you, he's rather...odd."

The earl allowed a small smile. "I thought that was a given with those whose minds are immersed in a world of abstract numbers and what abstruse things they might mean."

"Just so," agreed Hedley. "But in a fellowship of thinkers known to be eccentric, Professor Isaac Newton Sudler is considered exceedingly odd."

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"No question that he's brilliant," added the engineer. "But alas, there's a fine line between genius and madness."

We are told that Lady Cordelia dressed like a man so that she could attend Professor Sudler's classes with her brother and that she later got to know him better at social gatherings. However, her role in the project are never really explored aside from extremely vague comments like

(quoted from Murder at Queen's Landing)

"I think it's becoming clearer why Sudler needs Lady Cordelia," said Charlotte. "He would require a mathematical genius to complement his engineering genius."

There are also some vague comments about the future potential uses of the computing machine that Sudler and Cordelia have invented, but no details (either mechanical or mathematical) about how it works. What we do learn relatively early in the book is that Cordelia's brother has been caught up in an evil scheme involving the East India Company. To protect him, Cordelia and Sudler have to program their device to produce some tables for the criminals.

Along the way, there are several murders and plenty of flowery, clever dialogue of the sort that we like to imagine everyone spoke in England during the 19th century. If those things interest you, then by all means you should give this novel a try. But, if you are mostly interested in the mathematical aspects then you can probably skip this one. The computational engine in this book is more of a MacGuffin than an actual object of interest.

(Minor) Spoiler Alert: I only consider this a minor spoiler, because I will not be revealing who is behind the evil scheme and also because what I'm about to reveal seems a bit too silly. It turns out that the masterminds of this international smuggling ring, who tricked Lady Cordelia's brother into financing their illegal activities, and who resort to murder on several occasions, secretly used Sudler's cutting-edge computational engine to produce accurate numerical tables for arbitrage and navigation. Indeed, it is true that the tables available at the time had many incorrect entries introduced by human error. I understand that someone like Babbage would have been motivated by the thought that his device would correct these errors (though, not motivated enough to actually build one in his lifetime ; ). But, I have trouble believing that this organized crime ring would have been very concerned about that!

P.S. As far as I know, the author's real name is "Penrose" but she is not related to the famous mathematical physicist Roger Penrose.

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(Note: This is just one work of mathematical fiction from the list. To see the entire list or to see more works of mathematical fiction, return to the Homepage.)

Works Similar to Murder at Queen's Landing
According to my `secret formula', the following works of mathematical fiction are similar to this one:
  1. The Fourth Quadrant by Dorothy Lumley
  2. The Difference Engine by William Gibson / Bruce Sterling
  3. The Thrilling Adventures of Lovelace and Babbage by Sydney Padua
  4. Carry On, Mr. Bowditch by Jean Lee Latham
  5. The Fall of Man In Wilmslow by David Lagercrantz
  6. The Three Body Problem by Catherine Shaw
  7. Flowers Stained with Moonlight by Catherine Shaw
  8. Murder and Mendelssohn (Phryne Fisher Mystery) by Kerry Greenwood
  9. An Elegant Solution by Paul Robertson
  10. The Body Outside the Kremlin by James L. May
Ratings for Murder at Queen's Landing:
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 (1 votes)
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Literary Quality:
3/5 (1 votes)
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Categories:
GenreHistorical Fiction, Mystery,
MotifFemale Mathematicians,
TopicComputers/Cryptography, Mathematical Finance,
MediumNovels,

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(Maintained by Alex Kasman, College of Charleston)