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Murder by Mathematics (1948)
Hector Hawton

Contributed by Vijay Fafat

A murder mystery based on the purported discovery of the elementary proof of Fermat’s Last Theorem. As the review from Scripta Mathematica, 1948, pg 294 describes:

(quoted from a 1948 review of Murder by Mathematics )

Here we have a "who-dun-it" in which the plot hinges upon a bit of mathematical history to wit, Fermat's famous last theorem. It will be recalled that Fermat, having enunciated the theorem that no integers other than zero exist which satisfy x n + y n = z^ n , where n > 2. Scrawled in the margin of one of his books the annoying statement: "I have discovered a truly remarkable proof which this margin is too small to contain." He died without revealing the proof in question. One can readily imagine, therefore, the excitement created in mathematical circles when Fermat's lost theorem suddenly turns up on a blank page of Leibniz's “Nouveaux Essais”, and each of two pompous professors decides to win everlasting fame by claiming the discovery as his own. As the plot thickens, no fewer than two murders are committed, not with the conventional weapons of crime, but with that well-known device called the gyroscope. To sustain the intellectual atmosphere, a brilliant archaeologist happens to be present when the first of the rival professors filches the precious discovery, and so becomes the self-appointed Perry Mason of the drama. In the course of his investigation he observes that the personality traits which make a good mathematician are scarcely those which make a good murderer. We shall say no more, lest we deprive the reader of the usual pleasure to be derived from mystery stories.

The Book Taster from the first edition of the book goes as follows (courtesy Amazon/Goodreads reviewer Jay Maxfield):

(quoted from Murder by Mathematics)

Sir Clifford Massey, the famous mathematician whose broadcast talks delighted millions, is found murdered in his room in Westminster University. The real clue to the mystery of his death is a page of mathematics which the police would have overlooked but for the brilliant, donnish investigator (amateur sleuth), Asmun Hill. Murder lifts the curtain on a drama of intense emotions and unusual temptations. Once more Hector Hawton provides a macabre, psychological thriller. The originality of this baffling plot will challenge the ingenious reader, but it also gives rich entertainment as a story. The characters are no mere puppets, but human beings, drawn with subtlety and humour.

Originally published by Ward Lock & Co., London and Melbourne in 1948.

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MotifAcademia, Proving Theorems,

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