a list compiled by Alex Kasman (College of Charleston)

Home All New Browse Search About

The Murdered Mathematician (1949)
Harry Stephen Keeler
(click on names to see more mathematical fiction by the same author)

This book is probably the least believable thing I've ever read, but lots of fun!

Quiribus Brown is a 7 1/2 foot tall man who was raised by his father on a farm in Indiana. His father was a math professor before becoming a widower and they moved to the farm, so the only thing he teaches Quiribus about is mathematics - all of mathematics from the most elementary to the most advanced branches of the discipline. As the book opens, Brown is in Chicago looking for a murder mystery to solve using mathematics since his father's will requires him to do so in order to receive his inheritance. By coincidence, a mathematician has been murdered in Chicago that very day. Despite being shot in the forehead at close range by his murderer, he is still alive when the police arrive but is unable to speak or write in English because of the damage caused by the bullet. Instead, he writes mathematical clues to the identity of his murderer on a portable blackboard, using a piece of chalk that was taped into his hand by the police.

And, I assure you that from then on the coincidences become even more unbelievable!

Some remarks make it clear that the author is not an expert in mathematics himself -- such as mistakenly referring to the common factor "a" in the expression "ab+ac" as a "common denominator". Some of the mathematical oddities may simply be a consequence of the author's unusual style -- e.g. the odd but essential fact that the murder victim was best known for his opposition to the use of Greek letters in mathematical writing. However, Harry Stephen Keeler, who was well known in the 1940s and 1950s but mostly forgotten today, clearly knew some mathematics. He is unfortunately obsessed with the idea that mathematics is full of things that don't make sense (such as "proofs" that 1=2, higher dimensional geometry and imaginary numbers, which he mistakenly attributes to Einstein), but he does know something. A quote from this book even appeared in the Mathematical Gazette (Vol. 34, No. 307 Feb., 1950, p. 18). It is therefore likely to be of interest to fans of mathematical fiction that all of his books have recently been republished by Ramble House.

Among the mathematical highlights in the book are an entire exam, a rather eccentric one, written by the murder victim.

Contributed by Steve Snair

AMAZING! (though in a category all its own) A matter of taste.

More information about this work can be found at
(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 Murdered Mathematician
According to my `secret formula', the following works of mathematical fiction are similar to this one:
  1. The Barking Clock by Harry Stephen Keeler / Hazel Goodwin Keeler
  2. The Mathematicians of Grizzly Drive by Josef Skvorecky
  3. The Math Code by Alex Kasman
  4. The Elusive Bullet by John Rhode (aka Cecil John Charles Street)
  5. The Legend of Howard Thrush by Alex Kasman
  6. The Visiting Professor by Robert Littell
  7. The Case of the Flying Hands by Harry Stephen Keeler / Hazel Goodwin Keeler
  8. A Killer Theorem by Colin Adams
  9. Mangum, P.I. by Colin Adams
  10. The Use of Geometry in the Modern Novel by Norman Clarke
Ratings for The Murdered Mathematician:
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:
3.5/5 (2 votes)
Literary Quality:
4/5 (2 votes)

GenreMystery, Humorous,
MotifAcademia, Math Education,

Home All New Browse Search About

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)