Prime Suspects

by Andrew and Jennifer Granville

Tuesday, March 12, 2024

Featured image for Prime Suspects

Subtitled “The Anatomy of Integers and Permutations” this is a murder mystery like none I’ve ever read before, and it’s fair to say that I’ve read quite a few. I don’t normally look in the graphic novel section of the library but Darren does and brought me this as it was mathsy. I think he expected me to reject it for the maths being too simple, and it’s definitely not! It’s a walk through the connections between prime numbers and permutations that starts with explaining what each of those are, so it’s pretty accessible, but it keeps going, up and up and up.

Though I trained as a mathematician there are days when I feel like I’ve forgotten more than I knew, and a lot of the stuff here is stuff I never knew properly to start with. At university I dived into the applied and computational side of maths and it’s only years later that I feel I missed out on a lot of pure maths. You certainly don’t need to understand every last thing going on in the maths to enjoy the story here, I didn’t keep up with all of it. There’s an appendix that covers the mathematical content in a more usual written format, and that made me nostalgic for my time reading research papers. The appendix also points out a lot of the hidden treasures or Easter eggs in the story, little things happening in the background that have meaning, so it’s worth a read even if you don’t really want the maths explained any more.

I think the story itself is reasonably entertaining even if you just treated the maths components like some kind of weird fantasy woven around a murder mystery but I’d hesitate to recommend it to anyone who really wasn’t interested in maths. If you’ve any interest at all though it’s worth a read.