The Probability of Murder


Reviewed by Kat N.

Rating: 4 1/2 stars

Dr. Sophie Knowles is a professor with a way of making even the most complex math problems fun for her students. But when the school's beloved librarian is found shot to death in the stacks, Sophie learns that her friend was more complex than she ever knew. Now, Sophie must take on some rigorous deduction homework before the chances for another murder on campus increase exponentially...

When math professor Sophie Knowles agrees to hold onto Charlotte Crocker's duffel bag one day after the two go out for lunch, she doesn't for a second think the bag contains anything other than the woman's gym clothes.  It also never crosses Sophie's mind that Charlotte might be anyone other than the straight-laced, mild-mannered librarian she claims to be – or that their lunch date could be one of the last times she sees Charlotte alive.  But then Charlotte's found dead in the stacks, an apparent victim of foul play, and it turns out the bag she gave Sophie was filled not with exercise gear, but cold, hard cash, and suddenly, Sophie's forced to reexamine everything she thought she knew about her friend.  What kind of trouble was Charlotte mixed up in – and is Sophie's life now in danger, as well?

The Probability of Murder is Ada Madison's second Professor Sophie Knowles Mystery, and it's a compulsively readable tale from start to finish.  The setup is clever and so intriguing you immediately understand Sophie's urge to investigate.  The mystery is complex and finely crafted, with plenty of clues, suspects, plot twists, and red herrings to keep you guessing. The B-story – that Sophie's thrill-seeking boyfriend Bruce has gone mountain climbing out of cell phone range and is thought to have been caught up in an avalanche – is brilliant in both conception and construction, keeping the drama and tension high during even the book's quietest moments.  And the conclusion is thrilling, satisfying, and 100% earned.  The prose is graceful and intelligent, the pacing's quick, the narrative drive is strong, and Madison does a great job of tying the series' math theme to the central story without making it seem awkward or forced.

Madison's character work is brilliant, as well.  Sophie's a strong, smart, engaging heroine for whom you can't help but root, and her charming narration provides nice insight into how she thinks and what makes her tick.  Best friend Ariana is equal parts flaky cougar and loyal sidekick, and is chock full of heart.  Detective Virgil Mitchell's a refreshing break from stereotype; the fact that he's good friends with both Sophie and her boyfriend Bruce means he's neither love interest nor antagonist, immediately making him more interesting than 99% of the cop characters on the market.  Madison somehow even manages to develop Bruce as a character and love interest despite the fact that's off screen for almost the entire book.  Add to all this the fact that every single one of the suspects Madison introduces over the course of her tale is nuanced, fully fleshed, and equipped with his or her own unique personality and motive, and you have a cast of characters that's interesting, well-developed, and full of life.

In sum, I heartily recommend Ada Madison's The Probability of Murder. It's a fantastic book, and I fully intend to buy not only its prequel, but to stand in line for its sequel, as well.

Reviewed by Laura Hinds

Dr. Sophie Knowles is a Mathematics Professor at Henley College in Henley, Massachusetts. She enjoys a full life with her students and even throws weekly parties to commemorate famous mathematicians. Sophie's love life isn't dull either; she has a boyfriend named Brian Granville with the exciting job of medevac pilot, and they are planning a romantic weekend away in Boston.

Elsewhere on a campus, a tragedy unfolds. Charlotte Crocker, the college librarian, who is Sophie's good friend, is murdered. Sophie and Brian realize immediately that their weekend plans will have to wait. Someone murdered Charlotte and Sophie is beyond distraught as she comes to realize there was another side to her friend that she didn't know about. Who would have killed the beloved librarian and why? It's time for Sophie to set aside the rigidity of logic and follow her instincts to unearth the killer.

Author Ada Madison is a talented writer who knows how to hook her audience from the very first page. While readers with math anxiety might be leery of this series, there really is no "boring" or "hard" math to be afraid of. I found the story well-placed and plotted carefully, and overall the book was a rich and satisfying read.

While this isn't a book that I read in an afternoon, or even in one day, I enjoyed that the book made me work, got me to think harder than many cozy mysteries do. Madison is obviously an intelligent writer and I enjoyed learning from Sophie Knowles. This would actually be a great gift for someone in college who enjoys reading and needs motivation for the study of mathematics. It might just be inspirational!