a list compiled by Alex Kasman (College of Charleston)

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The Nine Tailors (1934)
Dorothy Leigh Sayers
(click on names to see more mathematical fiction by the same author)

Contributed by "William E. Emba"

This Lord Peter Wimsey novel is often considered Sayers' best. The plot revolves around the art of change ringing, often called "campanology" by non-campanologists. As usual with Sayers, she makes no explanatory concessions to her less-than-completely-educated readers (in this case, mostly Americans), so see [BROKEN LINK -- See note below from Peter Adams] for general information about change ringing, including a glossary.

Change ringing has an inherent mathematical content. Because of physical limitations and safety precautions, one can only move up or down one bell when ringing, and the art is thus focussed on generating permutations from these interchanges. (Playing tunes is simply not done.)

Sayers refers several times to this mathematical content, including having one character who has written a book on the mathematics of change ringing, and an encryption algorithm based on change ringing permutations.

In addition, most mathematically-minded readers will identity the killer long before Lord Peter figures things out, just by metafictional reasoning. This is deliberate with Sayers, who often scorned the traditional whodunit thrills in favor of writing for the sake of writing.

American readers should know that the title comes from an English saying "Nine tailors make a man". Its meaning and origin is unknown, but it is usually explained as being based on the traditional nine bells, that is, the nine tollers, rung at a man's death.

Contributed by Dennis P. Geller

Many people would not consider Nine Tailors to be the best Wimsey nover.  (Everyone I know prefers Gaudy Night -- with, perhaps, Have His Carcase's image of Harriet vane in a claret colored dress a close second.

Contributed by David E. Siegel

If this gets in, the fully worked out decryption problem (although on more or less the cross-word level) in Have His Carcase should probably be included as well.

Contributed by Peter M. Adams

I am fascinated by your "Mathematical Fiction" web site, which I found by following links concerning change ringing and the book "The Nine Tailors". Unfortunately there is a link that doesn't work [on this page].

It says "see for general information about change ringing, including a glossary" but this gives a "404" error.

Various web pages have the same link but sadly the site itself seems to have vanished.

There is some (rather unhelpful) information on the site at - at least, there was today (13 February 2010).

This web site looks interesting, but doesn't mention the "lost" site,

Thought you might like to know - keep up the good work!

(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 The Nine Tailors
According to my `secret formula', the following works of mathematical fiction are similar to this one:
  1. The Image in the Mirror by Dorothy Leigh Sayers
  2. Murder by Mathematics by Hector Hawton
  3. Magpie Lane by Lucy Atkins
  4. Holy Disorders by Edmund Crispin
  5. The Bishop Murder Case by S.S. van Dine (pseudonym of Willard Huntington Wright)
  6. The Problem of Cell 13 by Jacques Futrelle
  7. The Valley of Fear by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
  8. The One Best Bet [Flashlight] by Samuel Hopkins Adams
  9. Los crímenes de Alicia [The Alice Murders / The Oxford Brotherhood] by Guillermo Martinez
  10. Trueman Bradley: Aspie Detective by Alexei Maxim Russell
Ratings for The Nine Tailors:
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:
2.4/5 (5 votes)
Literary Quality:
4.2/5 (5 votes)


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Exciting News: The 1,600th entry was recently added to this database of mathematical fiction! Also, for those of you interested in non-fictional math books let me (shamelessly) plug the recent release of the second edition of my soliton theory textbook.

(Maintained by Alex Kasman, College of Charleston)