I’m going to break a habit with this post – it’s the 200th post of my little blog and to celebrate – I’m going to write another book review! Sorry, no summaries, no best of… lists – if you want one of those, I wrote one a couple of weeks ago for my 50000th visit, and I’d hate to repeat myself too much. But this is sort of a special review.
One of the unexpected bonuses of my little blog is the contact that I’ve had from various authors, be it established authors in the genre, such as Martin Edwards or Steve Hockensmith, or relative newcomers to the field, such as Nev Fountain or Bernadette Pajer. Even the occasional message thanking me for a review, a completely unnecessary gesture, by the way, will always make my day.
After I recently reviewed The Square Root of Murder, Ada Madison (aka Camille Minichino) was nice enough to send me a signed copy of the sequel, The Probability of Murder – I was so touched by this that I’ve decided to make it the subject of my bicentennial post. So, let’s hope it’s a good one.
To recap – we’re in cozy territory here. To clarify the use of the word cozy, I’m referring to the genre that seems to have sprung up in an attempt to imitate the Agatha Christie style while simultaneously missing the point completely. The genre has long since moved away from this idea, and now seems to be mostly defined by two rules – minimal blood and guts and, if possible, the sleuth must possess a distinctive career, hobby or both. Hence the existence of The Cheese Shop Mysteries, The Magical Dressmaking Mysteries or, to show how precise the individual series can be, The Cat In The Stacks series, featuring a librarian with a crime-solving cat. And now that I’ve mentioned all of these, found by a very quick search on Amazon, I realise that to be fair, I’m going to have to read them. Well, I’ve been meaning to take a serious look at the cozy world anyway…
Anyway, nothing quite so esoteric here. The Professor Sophie Knowles Mysteries feature, yes, Professor Sophie Knowles, a mathematics professor, a puzzle setter and a part-time beader (although it seems now that she only does it to bond with her friend Ariana and isn’t, in fact, very good at it.) The maths and puzzles bit was what made the first book stand out to me when it was reviewed in Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine as I am also a mathematics teacher and a puzzle solver.
So, in The Probability of Murder, Sophie’s friend Charlotte is found murdered in the college library, but no sooner has Sophie started sticking her nose in, it is revealed that her friend was really a con artist with a criminal record as long as your arm. So who was Charlotte really, and what had she done to get herself killed?
This is another jolly little romp. There are some nice mathematical tit-bits in the story which I thought were integrated well into the text – and ditto the puzzle aspects, which I thought were a little heavy-handed in the previous book. And even the beading serves the plot well. There are some odd scenes, notably when Sophie and Ariana distract themselves by talking about their favourite paradoxes (!) but I figure that this is so strange that it must be based on real conversations that the author (also a physics and maths teacher) has had with her friends. It’s written in the first person and Sophie is a charming, clever narrator – her intelligence shines through.
One thing though – and it is quite a big thing – I think for any seasoned reader of crime fiction, the killer sticks out like a sore thumb. I’m not going to hint at why, as that will give the game away, and I’d never spoil a book. Points off as well for the critical clue appearing in the paragraph immediately before the killer reveals themself! Talk about last minute. But it says a lot that I still enjoyed the book despite this. It’s a fun read that keeps you entertained. Recommended.