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.
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About the reviewer
Paul Weiss (cpw1952)
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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