"Maths Professor Springs into Action When her Student is Viciously Attacked"
Reviewed by Min Jung
Posted January 26, 2014
Dr. Sophie Knowles is a mathematics professor at Henley
College, which is in
the middle of Winter Intercession, a four-week optional
intensive session in
which students earn credit for a class as they would during
semester. During this already hectic time, the bell tower
on campus is
scheduled to be re-opened, which means parts of the campus
blocked off due to construction. The bell tower has been
closed for decades,
ever since a student died at the building in a tragic
Sophie, never one to let things go, instantly wants details.
back then and why was the tower closed? Her colleague, who
was teaching on
campus when the incident happened, becomes reticent and
she presses him for details, which isn't like him. Of
course, this only makes
Sophie all the more curious, especially when history seems
to repeat itself --
one of Sophie's students, Jenn, who was chosen to play the
carillon in the
bell tower is beaten and left in a coma. Are students
associated with the bell
Sophie is determined to get to the bottom of Jenn's tragedy,
which may mean
digging back in history and finding out what happened 25
years ago. Looking
back at a case that old has its obvious obstacles of not
only finding people
and trusting rusty memories, but she's also doing this in
parallel with trying
to solve Jenn's attack. While working on those two
seems to be targeting Sophie in a series of cyber attacks
that take up more
time than she'd like, especially since she isn't
This book is fun while being shrouded in mystery. Who would
maths student so viciously? Was Jenn's attack related to
the attack 25 years
ago? Were the attacks related solely to the bell tower?
One thing I particularly
liked about THE QUOTIENT OF MURDER is Sophie's usual support
system was somewhat
taken away from her and she had to rely on herself a little
more than usual,
although she wasn't left completely to her own devices.
I was a little disappointed that I was able to solve the
subplot (the cyber
attacks) nearly as soon as they started, but the core plot
written, which is what I've come to expect of this series.
I eagerly await the
next book in this series!
Dr. Sophie Knowles loves using puzzles to make math fun
for students. But when winter seizes Henley College, she
must thaw out a cold case to track down a killerâ€”her most
difficult puzzle yet . . .
is in full swing, and campus is buzzing over the concert
celebrating the bell towerâ€™s reopening. The building has
been shuttered for twenty-five years, and Sophieâ€™s shocked
to learn whyâ€”a student leapt from it to her death. But sheâ€™s
even more troubled by the secrecy surrounding the case.
After Sophie performs some quick calculations, sheâ€™s left
with a nagging question: Was it really suicide?
When one of Sophieâ€™s favorite students, a performer in the
concert, is brutally beaten and left in a coma, Sophieâ€™s
mind kicks into overdrive. The horrific incidents seem too
coincidental to be unrelated, but can Sophie put together
the pieces from a twenty-five-year-old murder before any
other students get hurt?
THE QUOTIENT OF MURDER
spoil my circles!
Four seasons aren't enough to please some New Englanders.
The administrators of Henley College, in Henley,
Massachusetts, gleefully wedged in a fifth this yearâ€”our
first ever January Intersession. Four weeks of classes,
three credits each, and thirty-one days of bracing the winds
on an icy-cold campus.
"You know you love teaching, any time, anywhere,
Sophie," more than one of my friends said every time I
whined about the extra load.
"Yeah, yeah," I admitted, acknowledging that I
couldn't get enough of class prep and student interaction.
But now, two weeks into the so-called term, a pipe somewhere
in the nether regions burst, and the heating system went out
in Benjamin Franklin Hall, home to the mathematics and
science departments. After shivering through my nine o'clock
calculus class, I carried my mug of coffee and laptop into
the faculty lounge, hoping someone had started water boiling
on the hotplate. During my free hour, I could give myself a
steam facial and warm up at the same time.
I wasn't the only one with that idea. I set my computer down
and joined two other department chairpersonsâ€”the tall,
heavily mustachioed Ted Morrell, from physics, and the much
smaller, strawberry blond Judy Donohue, head of
biologyâ€”standing at the side table, where the hotplate
occupied a prime position. I squeezed between them.
"I can't teach maxima and minima in a freezing
classroom," I complained to Ted, the most senior
faculty member in Franklin Hall. "What good is having a
physicist in the building if you can't fix the plumbing?"
"I'm on it, Sophie." Ted saluted and smiled. He
spared me his standard speech about the difference between
science and technology. According to Ted, physicists were
busy trying to understand the universe; it was the engineers
who were responsible for fixing its leaks.Â Â
It sounded like a cop-out to me.
No one wanted to argue with Ted, however, since he was our
go-to guy for any computer problems in the building. In
deference (or not) to his age, we called him our
One-Hundred-Year-Old Geek, the techie who could unfreeze
your bits and bytes or recover the file you thought you deleted.
Our laptops lined up on the conference table, the three of
us engaged in a time-honored New England winter tradition,
hovering over the steam from two pots of boiling water,
talking and drinking our coffee in a half bent position
while the bubbles gurgled away. I hoped someone would join
us who needed boiling water for tea so I'd feel less
wasteful and environmentally unsound.
This morning we also eyed a pink pastry box next to the
hotplate. It was the chemistry department's turn to supply
goodies today and a chem major had delivered the box
earlier. Ted patted his flat stomach, making a calculation
before indulging, then went for a cruller. I followed his
lead, promising myself an exercise routine soon, and broke
off a small piece of cinnamon twist.
Judy sucked in her stomach, then let out a breath and
admitted, "I pass, because I just walked by a hunky,
very buff guy in the basement fixing our heater, and I might
want to go back and introduce myself."
Ted and I pretended not to get the connection.
To add to the January woes, parking on campus had become a
nightmare. Large vehicles and heavy equipment for the
renovating and reopening of our carillon facility had taken
over the lots on the east and north sides of the
Administration Building. Besides the bell tower, the
landscaping at the back of Admin was also getting a make-over.
Franklin Hall had its own lot next to the tennis courts at
the other end of campus, but the displaced cars had moved in
on us. This was as good a time as any to gripe about it.
"Someone was in my spot today," Judy said. "A
dirty old blue Citroen." She brushed the front of her
spotless wool jacket, as if she'd inadvertently leaned on
the scruffy vehicle.
"Probably someone from the French Department," Ted
joked, halfway through his cruller. "But where else are
they going to park?"
"Anywhere but my spot," Judy said, stomping her
feet. For circulation or for emphasis? Probably both.
"They could at least remove some of that equipment that
they're through with. I'll bet they're never going to use
that backhoe again."
"It's all for a good cause," I offered, and hummed
a few notes of the Westminster Chimes. Thanks to a generous
donation from a group of alumnae, Henley College's Music
Department would once again have a full program of carillon
studies and regular concerts.
"Listen to Ms. Arrives-at-Dawn Knowles," Ted said,
flicking a crumb of powdered sugar from his mustache.
"You still have your spot."
"That would be Dr. Arrives-At-Dawn
Knowles," I teased. "But you have a point."
Usual construction delays and a late December snow had
slowed the carillon project, but the remaining work was
fairly weatherproof and we were promised a concert in the
In spite of the inconvenience of the parking situation, most
faculty and students were thrilled about the restoration and
upgrading of our carillon. Comprising fifty-three (formerly
forty-eight) bells, the instrument was housed in a tower
attached to the sprawling, English Gothic Administration
Building. It was hard to believe that the present
construction zone, with ugly equipment, scaffolding, and
black and yellow caution tape, would soon give way to
beautiful music from the tower.
Judy shook the box of pastry for a better view of the bottom
layer, then succumbed to a piece of Danish that had broken
loose. "I know, tsk, tsk," she said, as if someone
had reprimanded her. "You're being so good, Sophie."
"Uh-huh." I didn't share my reasons for holding
backâ€”there were more goodies in my immediate future, and I
wanted to save my appetite. I planned to share cake with my
class after my eleven o'clock seminar, then enjoy lunch with
my boyfriend, search-and-rescue hero Bruce Granville.
Medevac pilots didn't often get a regular lunch hour, so I'd
jumped at the chance to meet Bruce downtown.
"We don't have our parking lot back, but at least the
excruciatingly dull special faculty meetings are over,"
I nodded, recalling endless hours of meetings to decide
details that should have taken five minutes each. Should we
charge admission to climb the tower for a tour? (No.) For
attendance at a carillon concert? (No.) Should the players
be called carillonists or carillonneurs? (The former.) Whose
names should be inscribed on the new bells to be installed?
(Big donors, of course.) Which shade of gray should we use
for the walls, "sea salt" or "samovar
silver?" (Who even remembers the final decision?)
"Notice, no one in administration ever mentioned the
reason the carillon program was cancelled to begin
with," Judy said.
"Knock, knock, Doctors?"
Our longtime, diffident janitor, Woody, stood at the door,
his smile broader than usual. He knew we'd be pleased to see
the load he was ready to pull into the roomâ€”a gray metal
cart with two shelves full of small space heaters.
Three variations of enthusiastic thanks, plus a round of
applause caused a light flush to appear over Woody's face.
We invited him to share the wealth of sugar in the pink box.
Woody scooped up a jelly donut and placed it to the side on
a napkin. "For after I set these up," he said,
pointing to his cart. "Thank you, Doctors," he added.
"Thank you, Mr. Conroy," Judy said, but I was
unsure whether he'd recognized her tease. We'd long ago
stopped trying to coax him into using our first names.
Five minutes later, life-giving warmth radiated from the
coils of a heater at the back of the room.
We moved from the hotplate and arranged chairs around the
heater, while Woody cleared the way for a second unit at the
front of the room.
Judy's earlier comment came back to me. "What do you
mean 'the real reason' for closing the tower?" I asked
her. "I thought it was sealed off because of some
building code violation and we didn't have the money for
Judy pointed to our colleague from physics. "Ted would
know better, but what I heard was that twenty-five years
ago, toward the end of the spring semester, a student jumped
from the tower. A sophomore French major, right, Ted?"
Ted nodded, frowning, closing his eyes.
I drew in my breath. "A student jumped from our tower?
That's why the tower was sealed off?"
I looked at Ted for more information. He'd been at Henley
forever, an icon in horn-rimmed spectacles. I'd lost track
of how long ago we'd celebrated his thirtieth anniversary.
But Ted wasn't in a sharing mood today. He opened his
laptop, finished with the tower conversation.
Even with the new source of heat in the room, I felt a
chill. Maybe because of the horrible image now in my head. A
girl falling from the tower, hitting concrete, breaking
bones, bleeding . . .
I thought back. I'd been born and raised in Henley, but
twenty-five years ago, I was a college student on the west
coast. Had I been so self-centered that I wouldn't have paid
attention to such dramatic news in my hometown? Granted, it
was three thousand miles and more than half my lifetime ago,
and it made sense that my mother wouldn't have wanted me to
focus on it. Still . . .Â
I finally caught my breath. "How come you knew this and
I didn't?" I asked Judy.
Though Judy was five years my junior, we'd joined the
faculty the same semester, fifteen years ago. She'd arrived
straight out of grad school, skipping the phase I'd been
through, where you try gainful employment in industry before
giving in to your first love, teaching.
"I heard bits and pieces my first year here. I haven't
thought about it in a long time," Judy said.
"They quit having all those live music concerts and we
put in that electric system. Nobody was supposed to talk
about it," Woody said, packing up his toolbox.
"A very good idea," Ted offered, without lifting
his eyes from his keyboard.
"Yes, sir, Doctor," Woody said, taking Ted's
message to heart, and, I guessed, wishing he'd never
contributed to the conversation.
"The real answer to your question, Sophie, is that
everyone knows you're no fun when it comes to keeping gossip
alive. That's why no one brought it up with you."
I didn't know whether to say "Sorry" or
Ted gave Judy a disapproving look, and she quickly
explained. "I didn't mean that this was gossip. It must
have been an unimaginable tragedy for her family, of course.
For everyone at Henley."
Judy had a way of being flip that annoyed Ted, the
straightest arrow in the building, at least once a day in my
experience, but we both knew she never meant disrespect.
The natural questions were swimming around in my head. Who
was the girl? Why did she jump? How did her family handle it?
I didn't have to ask. Judy tuned into my vibes. "The
girl was from an influential family in Boston." She
snapped her fingers, remembering. "Her father was a
high profile lawyer, if I recall correctly, and headed to
Washington. The first rumors were that she was depressed
over a boyfriend who'd just dumped her. But they never did
verify that she was depressed or that there even was a
"Maybe she was flunking her classes?" I offered,
knowing how high the stakes were for some students.
Ted cleared his throat. "No one really knows why anyone
does anything," he said, in a sweeping pronouncement.
"What does it matter, anyway?"
"I just found it strange that so many rumors persisted,
even after the suicide ruling," Judy said.
"You think the boyfriend was a cover story?" I
asked. "There was another reason she jumped from the
Judy shrugged. "Anything is possible. There could have
been more to it. Something embarrassing to the family. I'm
pretty sure the girl's father was running for office.
Sometimes that alone is enough to doubt what you see in the
press. The girlâ€”"
"Kirsten Packard," Ted interrupted. "The girl
was Kirsten Packard, and her father was in the state's
attorney general's office, running for election as US
attorney, which he won. He served his country in that
capacity, and died a few years ago."
There was a finality to Ted's tone. He might as well have
said, "Zip it," or, more suited to him, "Now
can we please drop this topic?" But Judy, who never met
a rumor she didn't like, wasn't finished.Â
"I even heard that someone might have been up there
with Kirsten," Judy said. "In the tower. And
that's why the Packard family wasn't eager to have an
As much as I sympathized with Ted, I couldn't resist. Trying
to establish a reputation to match Judy's? I hoped not.
"So she might have been pushed by this other
person?" I asked.
Judy raised her eyebrows and gave me a slight smile, as if
to commend me for guessing what she had in mind.
We both turned to look more closely at Ted, Woody having
slipped out by now.
"You were on the faculty back then, Ted. What do you
think?" Judy asked.
"No comment," he said, and continued to work at
his keyboard. He acted as uncomfortable as if he himself had
been in the tower with Kirsten that day. But the look was
more that of sad father than of a witness to murder.
"I don't get it," I said. "Why would a parent
not want an investigation if they suspected their daughter
"Politicians, you know," Judy suggested,
shrugging. "It's all about image. A murder
investigation digs up all kinds of things besides a
murderer. Family secrets and skeletons. Maybe the girl . .
.Â Kirsten . . .Â was into something that got her killed.
Suicide is neater. Well, not neat, but you know what I
"Right," I said, as if either of us was an expert
in the matter. "One more question, Ted. Did you know
Kirsten personally?" I asked.
He took a deep breath and gave a slight, slow nod. "I
didn't have her as a student. She majored in romance
languages, I think. But her roommate was a physics major so
I'd met Kirsten once or twice."
Ted stood and walked to where the coffee urn and the
hotplate kettles were both going strong. He refilled his mug
with our less-than-gourmet coffee, carried it back to his
seat, and bent over his keyboard again.
I was curious to know why Ted didn't leave the lounge and
the conversation that seemed so distasteful to him. Maybe he
wanted to keep tabs on the wild imaginings of his
colleagues. Was he protecting the victim for some reason?
Though he claimed not to know her, he certainly would care
about the image of the college where he'd spent the better
part of his adult life. Or maybe he simply couldn't face the
even colder office wing of the building.
"Let's lighten this up a bit, shall we," Judy
said, surprising me. "Give us a puzzle or a math
I snapped to it. "Of course," I said, and scanned
my mental list for a puzzle I hadn't already told them. The
first riddle that came to me was a cute entry that I'd seen
in the kids' section of one of the magazines I submitted
puzzles and brainteasers to.
"How many eggs can you put in an empty basket with a
six-inch square bottom, three inches high?" I asked.
Judy made a pshaw sound. "You're off your game,
Sophie. The answer is, only one. After that the basket's not
empty. And those dimensions are to throw me off. Like a red
herring in a mystery."
Judy was right all around. Not just about the number of eggs
and the clever distraction, but about the fact that I was
off my game. My heart wasn't in it. It was heavy with the
thought of a student in distress.
Unless the corollary legend was true and someone had pushed
Kirsten out the tower window. Another horrible scenario.
Ted clicked away, neglecting to offer his usual challenge to
me with his own joke. An electron walks into a bar . .
.Â Judy's laptop bonged awake. The coffee klatch had
come to an end.
In my office, I sent a quick text to Bruce confirming our
lunch date and gathered my class materials. At the last
minute, I picked up my down jacket, in case Woody hadn't yet
set up a heater in the classroom.
I heard a noise behind me and turned to find Judy in my doorway.
I invited her in, but she declined. "I know you're on
your way to class, but I had a thought."
I cupped my ear. "I'm listening."
"Fran would have been here at that time. Twenty-five
Not a thought. More of a fact. Fran Emerson, my colleague in
the Mathematics Department, had been at Henley at least as
long as Ted. She was off this semester, teaching in Rwanda
on a Fulbright.
It took a minute, but I got it. "You want me to call
Fran in Africa and ask about a twenty-five-year-old event?"
"That's a crazy idea."
"Just a thought," Judy said, as she turned and
"Crazy," I called after her.
"Curious," she said, her voice echoing after her.
"Scientists are curious."
"Yes, but biologists are crazy."
I walked down the hall to my classroom, Kirsten Packard's
death still weighing on me, almost as if she'd been my own
Most faculty members who'd been around awhile and were even
the least bit approachable had at one time or another
counseled a student who was on the edge. I certainly had. It
was a sobering, frightening experience. Though Kirsten's
death had occurred a long time ago, it pained me to
acknowledge that one of us had failed to save a young life.
I hoped my current students were all in a happy state, glad
to be alive.
And that no one was out to get them.
I stood in the doorway before entering the room and pulled
out my smartphone. I clicked on the world clock.
Almost eleven o'clock in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.
Nearing five o'clock in the evening in Rwanda. Not that I
needed to know.
Curious, crazy mathematicians.
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