Crimes and Mathdemeanors is a delightful collection of short mystery stories starring a 14-year-old mathematical genius named Ravi. Whether the issue is solving a murder, detecting cheating in a basketball league, or the theft of a moon rock, the police are always baffled and Ravi always steps in to save the day, using his superior mathematical reasoning to characterize the problem and then to solve it. After Ravi supplies the correct solution he explains his reasoning and the mathematics involved in terms that even the slowest adult could understand. He even supplies extensions to the immediate problem, showing how the same techniques could be applied in other situations.
Precocious math students will love this collection: what could be more fun than seeing one of their own as the hero of the day, and learning some new mathematics at the same time? Mathematically-inclined adults may enjoy it also: the problems are not overly simple and I didn’t guess all of the solutions the first time through. Most of the problems involved are not original, and Lathout provides credit for the sources when possible.
My only criticism of this collection is that the writing style grates on the sensitive ear, which may be a reflection of the author’s youth, or of his disinterest in literary matters. “Ravi strode onto the large, neatly manicured lawn of 423 Sycamore Lane… He was a slender fourteen-year-old boy with curly brown locks and large inquisitive brown eyes…” Well, you get the idea. On the other hand, this is not that different from the style of the Nancy Drew stories I enjoyed as a child (and goodness knows they have been successful), and the main interest of these stories is in the mathematics rather than the literary style.
Leith Hathout is a California high school student who began competing in national mathematics competitions at age 9 and has won several awards at the national level, as well as achieving a perfect score on the California Math League exam. He is also a nationally ranked foil fencer and devoté of mysteries. He has also published in The College Mathematics Journal.
Sarah Boslaugh, (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a Performance Review Analyst for BJC HealthCare and an Adjunct Instructor in the Washington University School of Medicine, both in St. Louis, MO. Her books include An Intermediate Guide to SPSS Programming: Using Syntax for Data Management (Sage, 2004), Secondary Data Sources for Public Health: A Practical Guide (Cambridge, 2007), and Statistics in a Nutshell (O'Reilly, forthcoming), and she is Editor-in-Chief of The Encyclopedia of Epidemiology (Sage, forthcoming).