A Quotient of Murder


Reviewed by Cynthia Chow

In a brilliant move to squeeze in more classes and tuition, Henley College has begun offering January Intercession classes lasting four weeks during the coldest season in Massachusetts. Mathematics professor, Dr. Sophie Knowles, loves teaching, but not so much in the heat-deprived, freezing Benjamin Franklin Hall. The extra funds to the college though will help with the restoration of the carillon in the formerly closed bell tower, now being reopened after twenty-five years. That was when a young student jumped, fell, or was pushed from the tower, depending on who was telling the story.

When a favored but recently troubled student is beaten on campus and left in a coma, Sophie’s mathematical mind cannot ignore the logical connection between the attack, the new construction, or the death of a woman with a politically promising father. It is completely against Sophie’s nature to allow a puzzle go unsolved, and with two confronting her at her beloved college there is no way that she will allow either to go unresolved. Whether it involves following a path towards Kirsten Packard’s connection with a possible bank robbery or corralling in her students to study surveillance tapes, Sophie will explore every avenue available to both protect her students and tie up every loose end. However, she will face considerable distractions when she becomes the target of a cyber-stalker who messes with her credit rating, floods her email and impersonates a puzzle editor.

Surrounding Sophie are the usual eccentric, brilliant and often odd academics that so enjoyably (for readers) populate the campus. Perhaps one of the strongest elements of the writing is that one always gets a sense that the world continues to go on and the police investigate in the background, even when Sophie is center stage.

After a decade and a half of teaching, Sophie has developed a sharp and acerbic sense of humor to cope with the often frustrating, naive and irresponsible youth. She has never lost her love of mathematics and science though, and this allows her to continue to feel the need to share her knowledge and affection with her promising students. Sophie is a woman who relaxes with brain puzzles, never plans to leave American soil, loves to order the same meal at restaurants (and can’t eat a lobster after watching them battle in a tank in front of her), and prefers staying in the lodge to skiing.

In contrast, her devoted medevac boyfriend, Bruce Granville, who served in the Air Force in Saudi Arabia, ice climbs, never orders the same dinner twice and routinely works at a job where he pilots around telephone poles and towers. Somehow though, their shared sense of humor and love for one another completely meshes into a distinctly mature and very enjoyable relationship.

The author of nearly twenty mysteries, holding a doctorate in physics and writing under the pseudonyms Ada Madison and Margaret Grace, author Camille Minichino has lost none of her edge or her ability to craft ingenious mysteries and complex characters. Sophie is the professor we all wish had had in college and a woman we all want as a best friend. The humor is so wonderfully dry and the author never fails to poke fun at the absurdities unique and ever-present within the academia. Brain teasers at the end of the novel are as complex, witty and enjoyable as the mystery itself, continuing the author’s track record at crafting original and skillfully written novels.

Reviewed by Min Jung

Dr. Sophie Knowles is a mathematics professor at Henley College, which is in the middle of Winter Intercession, a four-week optional intensive session in which students earn credit for a class as they would during a regular semester. During this already hectic time, the bell tower on campus is scheduled to be re-opened, which means parts of the campus are blocked off due to construction. The bell tower has been closed for decades, ever since a student died at the building in a tragic accident.

Sophie, never one to let things go, instantly wants details. What happened back then and why was the tower closed? Her colleague, who was teaching on campus when the incident happened, becomes reticent and truculent when she presses him for details, which isn't like him. Of course, this only makes Sophie all the more curious, especially when history seems to repeat itself -- one of Sophie's students, Jenn, who was chosen to play the carillon in the bell tower is beaten and left in a coma. Are students associated with the bell tower cursed?

Sophie is determined to get to the bottom of Jenn's tragedy, which may mean digging back in history and finding out what happened 25 years ago. Looking back at a case that old has its obvious obstacles of not only finding people and trusting rusty memories, but she's also doing this in parallel with trying to solve Jenn's attack. While working on those two investigations, someone seems to be targeting Sophie in a series of cyber attacks that take up more time than she'd like, especially since she isn't particularly technologically inclined.

This book is fun while being shrouded in mystery. Who would attack a maths student so viciously? Was Jenn's attack related to the attack 25 years ago? Were the attacks related solely to the bell tower? One thing I particularly liked about THE QUOTIENT OF MURDER is Sophie's usual support system was somewhat taken away from her and she had to rely on herself a little more than usual, although she wasn't left completely to her own devices.

I was a little disappointed that I was able to solve the subplot (the cyber attacks) nearly as soon as they started, but the core plot was masterfully written, which is what I've come to expect of this series. I eagerly await the next book in this series!