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on July 5, 2010
As much as I tried to like and play along with the author, this book is slightly dissapointing. Maybe it has a lot to to do with the unfortunate form of letters that heroine send to her twin sister. Following the whole murder case through one persons letters is after a while realy boring. It is hard to draw believable characters in this form. One persons perceptions of the world around her are after all nothing but subjective outlook. A novel needs much more than that.
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on July 16, 2014
Too long and rambling.
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on October 5, 2008
A fun book in an academic setting. The story contains a somewhat unusual mystery involving the mysterious deaths of mathematicians at Cambridge University. The narrative also includes puzzles, problems, and literary quotes that the school teacher-amateur sleuth-protagonist includes as part of her discussion of her teaching duties. I found these diverting by themselves, but they become important for the story as well.
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on January 8, 2015
Same as the above review
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on July 8, 2009
Vanessa Duncan, a young schoolmistress away from home for the first time, is swept into the world of Cambridge University's math department just when three of its promising scholars are murdered. When her fellow lodger and budding love interest Arthur Weatherburn is accused of the deed, she becomes obsessed with proving his innocence. Central to the plot is the yearly historic math Birthday Competition (1846-1927) organized under the auspices of King Oscar II of Sweden. The solution to Isaac Newton's famous but yet unsolved "n-body problem" is this year's main problem. Given the scholars mutual snipping and need to produce creative work at a young age, there is thought that the scholars might have been eliminated because they were on their way to winning this prestigious prize.

The story will interest readers who love puzzles and the workings of mathematical formulas. To Vanessa's surprise, women are beginning to breach the walls of Cambridge by attending two of its colleges. She also discovers that Germany and Sweden are ahead in allowing women to study, and hears about important personalities such as the inspired French mathematician Henri Poincaré and famous scholar Sonya Kovalevskaya. The puzzles created by Lewis Carroll for young people also are featured in the plot.

The author uses the device of telling the story through a series of letters written from Vanessa to her twin sister. Sometimes this works; other times it fails as the best way to convey the minute details of Vanessa's day, her thoughts, and conversations. For example, the letters convey the complete transcripts of Weatherburn's trial, and her own fifteen page intricate court defense of him in which she sounds more like a highly professional lawyer than the shy, protected, unsophisticated woman the author has portrayed her to be. One's credulity is further strained when Vanessa takes a spur of the moment journey with two children in tow through three countries to reach Sweden, where she confronts Sweden's leading mathematician, Gosta Mittag-Leffler, and later the Swedish king.

The is the first of the Vanessa Duncan series. The author, a mathematician, provides separated information about mathematical history.
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on March 18, 2007
I believe that Catherine Shaw understands mathematics. I even believe that she understands academia. Unfortunately, see no evidence that she understands human nature and that is at the heart of a good detective novel. Although the three body problem has some interesting elements, it fails to really engage the reader. Shaw mercilessly twists the plot (and probability) to fit her solution to fit her mathematical model. Cute, but not compelling.

Honestly, I would have been inclined to give the book a lower star rating simply on its merits. However, Shaw has some strong points as a writer and it seems to me that if she writes a book in which she likes the audience more than her own ideas then she could go far. Plus, she made use of the Lewis Carroll conundrums. She gets extra credit for that.

If you are a fan of academic cozies, then this may be your cup of tea. No explicit violence, adult themes or language. Should be suitable for readers of all ages. Math majors should get an extra kick out of the book.
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on September 24, 2014
The first of the series of mysteries featuring a female protagonist with a mathematical bent.
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