a list compiled by Alex Kasman (College of Charleston)
|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:
When Earl Wrexford makes inquiries as to who might be able to help understand these mechanical plans, he is directed to seek out Sudler:
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
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.
|Buy this work of mathematical fiction and read reviews at amazon.com.|
|(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.)|
(Maintained by Alex Kasman, College of Charleston)