June 4, 2006

The Fractal Murders

The Fractal Murders by Mark Cohen

Finished on 6/2/06
Rating: B+ (7/10 Good)

I’d never heard of this book or author and just happened to stumble upon it at the library one day. Brought it home for Rod and wound up reading it once he’d finished.

Set in Nederland, Colorado (near Boulder), private investigator Pepper Keane is hired to uncover the possible serial murders of three math experts – specifically, experts in fractals. The FBI has decided that the murders were unrelated and, as a result, closed all three cases.

Pepper lives alone with his two dogs (Buck & Wheat) and like most contemporary mysteries I’ve recently read, the potential for a love interest with the math professor who hires him is pretty obvious. Pepper is a bit reminiscent of Harlan Coben’s witty Myron Bolitar and I was easily drawn into his personal story, as well as the mystery. The details of fractal geometry don’t get too complex (and I’m almost brave enough to say that I actually learned something about them!), although I did find myself skimming a page or two that dealt with the stock market and how fractals can be useful in predicting the trends of a given market.

I enjoyed the references to Lincoln (Cohen practiced law for eight years in Omaha and spent a year at UNL pursuing a Master’s in philosophy) and had no trouble picturing Pepper and his sidekick, Scott (reminiscent of Harlan Coben’s Win, although not quite as psychotic) hanging out in the Haymarket, enjoying their pizza and Empyrean Ale at Lazlo’s. Hmmm, perhaps this is why I stumbled on the book on the new release shelf, in spite of its 2004 publication date. Product placement of a “local” author?

In any event, The Fractal Murders is a decent summer read, although it does have a few shortcomings. My biggest complaint is with Cohen’s writing style. He has a tendency to describe every character’s clothing ensemble EVERY time the person is mentioned. On a single page, halfway into the book, three characters are in a discussion with one another and Cohen describes exactly what each is wearing. This clothing fetish has absolutely no bearing on the narrative and it comes across as very amateurish and formulaic. In addition to the clothing issue, Cohen’s writing seems a bit simplistic: He often states the obvious and makes a point to comment on the weather, as if he were thinking, “hmmm, I mentioned what they were wearing and how to open a bottle of beer… now maybe I should tell the reader that it looks like rain.” Sandford, Lehane, Coben and Parker he’s not, but I still enjoyed the book and plan to read more by this new-to-me author. Bluetick Revenge looks promising with the return of Pepper Keane and his assorted buddies (canine and human, alike). Maybe his second novel is a little more polished and not in need of quite so much editing.

A favorite passage:

“The math building, a three-story fortress, was right where the student had said it would be. Not far from where I’d parked. I had expected it to be named the Chester Q. Hollingsworth Hall of Mathematics or some such thing, but the sign above the entrance read simply, MATHEMATICS BUILDING.

I entered unafraid. I was forty-four years old and nobody was going to ask me to bisect an angle or test my ability to solve a quadratic equation. That’s one of the advantages of growing up. There aren’t many, so I savored it.”

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