Prime Suspects The Anatomy of Integers and Permutations
By Andrew Granville and Jennifer Granville
Illustrated by Robert J. Lewis
At first, I was really excited about reading this graphic novel. It’s a murder mystery and it deals with math, which was my best subject way back when I was in school. So, I thought I was really going to dig this. I also thought that, from reading the synopsis, that it would be something I or anyone else would be able to pick up and follow without needing a master’s degree in mathematics.
Here is what the blurb said:
“Integers and permutations—two of the most basic mathematical objects—are born of different fields and analyzed with separate techniques. Yet when the Mathematical Sciences Investigation team of crack forensic mathematicians, led by Professor Gauss, begins its autopsies of the two seemingly related homicides, Arnie Integer and Daisy Permutation, they discover the most extraordinary similarities between the structures of each body.
PRIME SUSPECTS (Princeton University Press, August 6, 2019) is a graphic novel that takes you on a voyage of forensic discovery, exploring some of the most fundamental ideas in mathematics. Travel with Detective von Neumann as he leaves no clue unturned, from shepherds’ huts in the Pyrenees to secret societies in the cafés of Paris. Tremble at the ferocity of the believers in deep and rigid abstraction. Feel the frustration—and the excitement—of our young heroine, Emmy Germain, as she blazes a trail for women in mathematical research and learns from Professor Gauss, the greatest forensic detective of them all.”
So, me being the cool, kick-ass, nerdy chick that I am, I was totally stoked to read this. And it started off pretty damn good. The artwork is fabulous. And I do mean fantastically fabulous. I like the bold colors and the details on the facial expressions. Each character CLEARLY is distinct and has their own look and personality. The addition of sarcasm, humor and witty banter between the characters makes for a fun and light-hearted background to the whole cast and the relationships between all of them. And at the beginning, the math stuff was easy. Yes, anyone could follow it…up to a point.
Now, me I'm a true believer in science and math and the main reason I love math is because it IS logic and no matter what the question is in math you WILL get an answer, even if the answer IS ‘no answer’. Math just makes sense to me. Science makes sense to me.
Unfortunately, after about halfway through this book, it did not make sense to me.
I can appreciate the quick-and-easy way they tried to explain some of these mathematical theories and concepts, but I just don’t think they quite hit the mark on it. The explanations are good but are hard to follow with the limited and kind of examples that are given. Plus, this is all done in text only and math isn’t all text, it uses numbers. Unfortunately, I think you DO need the math background to be able to truly follow the story and because of that, the reader (me) starts to feel confused, lost and frustrated.
Eventually, after going backwards multiple times and trying to re-read as if I missed something, I just decided to stop torturing myself and put the book away and let it go.
I can’t say that I would recommend this to the average person. Math students, math majors, math buffs, scientists, science buffs…yes. Random regular everyday people…nah. This could be excellent required reading for math majors in college.
But the artwork was worth it. That definitely was not a letdown. So, it wasn’t a total loss.