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Lunch » Tags » Books » Reviews » The Fractal Murders (Pepper Keane Mysteries) » User review

Chaos and comedy combine in a great story!

  • Dec 16, 2010
The Fractal Murders is nothing if not unique! Here's a first novel based on a completely fascinating premise that presents interesting, realistic and superbly developed characters; that develops a heart-warming romantic relationship complete with all the bumps, bruises and detours of reality; that avoids prurient sex and violence as completely unnecessary to the advancement of a well-written novel; and does it all with well crafted narrative and descriptive writing as well as positively hilarious dialogue! The fixings are so good that a main dish plot becomes almost secondary but I can tell you that Cohen has done a fine job with that as well! What a treat for a debut novel!

Pepper Keane, a former JAG prosecutor, is hired by University of Colorado mathematics Jane Smyers to investigate the almost simultaneous deaths of three of her professional colleagues - two by murder and one by apparent suicide - people who seem to have had nothing more in common than front-running world class expertise in the rather arcane field of fractal geometry. Smyers's mathematical background convinces her that the probability of the three deaths being unrelated is vanishingly small and some long-standing bad blood between Keane and FBI Special Agent Polk, who conducted the now closed investigation, raises Keane's eyebrows and prompts him into letting himself become involved in re-opening the case.

Pepper Keane is a lovable, laughable character that Cohen has endowed with an anally obsessive nature and a serious overdose of existential angst that he indulges by attempting to plow through some of Heidegger's heaviest writings. Cohen obviously loves a good pun and I nearly fell off my chair laughing when he set up this positively outrageous example. Keane's brother, nicknamed "Two Toe" as a result of a war wound, muses aloud about where they are as he and Pepper drive out of Kansas. Suggesting that he had been waiting a long, long time to say it, Pepper responded "Two Toe, I have a feeling we're not in Kansas anymore"! Ouch! Between you and me, I think it's much more likely that Cohen waited a long time to shoehorn that pre-conceived pun into a novel and I've got no doubt at all that he nicknamed his character Two Toe for the sole purpose of sticking that single line into the novel. It sure gets my unqualified approval! Cohen's sparkling wit shines throughout the novel with a veritable cornucopia of knee-slapping one liners.

As for the mathematics - Mandelbrot and Benoit sets, chaos, fractional dimensions, random walks, discussions of business applications such as fundamental versus technical analysis, weather prediction and crop markets - the basic concepts are presented in a lucid, simple and non-threatening fashion. And, frankly, since the mathematics aren't critical to the plot, the novel can be read and enjoyed even for those who haven't the remotest interest in such ideas!

Readers looking for a refreshingly different approach to a mystery hooked up to a healthy dose of humour should be well pleased with Cohen's first efforts. I'm certainly looking forward to more of his work.

Paul Weiss

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December 16, 2010
Wow thanks for pointing this one out - I love Chaos Theory and Fractals and used those ideas in my BA thesis on Musical Aesthetics so I'm definitely going to order this one.
December 16, 2010
You're very welcome. I've been meaning to order his 2nd novel for the longest time but I've never managed to get around to it. Let me know how you enjoy this one.
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Paul Weiss ()
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   A modern day dilettante with widely varied eclectic interests. A dabbler in muchbut grandmaster of none - wilderness camping in all four seasons, hiking, canoeing, world travel,philately, … more
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A surprising premise and an extraordinary theme equal an accomplished debut. That's simple math, but the geometric concepts that fuel Cohen's book are far more advanced. Former federal prosecutor Pepper Keane is hired by University of Colorado mathematics professor Jayne Smyers to look into the deaths of three colleagues who had nothing in common other than their field of expertise-fractal geometry. An FBI investigation prompted by Smyers found no link among the geographically separate, methodologically different deaths (two of them murders, one ruled a suicide). An appealing maverick, Keane lives in a small mountain town near Boulder with two animal rescue dogs, collects old-time rock 'n' roll and country music tunes and likes to read philosophy. In his dogged effort to connect the three deaths, Keane butts heads with an old FBI nemesis and finds an occasional ally, as well as an unexpected rival. While the killer's identity turns out to be disappointingly ordinary, Cohen's writing style is direct and amazingly lucid, even when handling the concepts and applications of fractal geometry or outlining the tenets of Martin Heidegger. Readers looking for something refreshingly different should be well satisfied.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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ISBN-10: 0446614912
ISBN-13: 978-0446614917
Author: Mark Cohen
Genre: Computers & Internet
Publisher: Grand Central Publishing
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