PhDeath: The Puzzler Murders

How could I resist? Word puzzles, a murder at NYU, some math, a dash of ancient Greek, political intrigue, faculty politics, philosophy, social commentary, and even Will Shortz… obviously irresistible.

So I didn’t resist it.

The result of all these ingredients is PhDeath, a murder mystery written by a non-fiction writer who doesn’t know how to write fiction. The plot is interesting enough, though the story is told (not surprisingly) in a fairly academic way. Setting is effective. Characters are thin and implausible. The author, James Carse, does at least succeed in withholding the gender of a main character without ever making it seem forced or obvious, and that’s something of an accomplishment. The puzzles, all in the form of clues left by the murder giving hints about the next death, do eventually lead to a solution, which isn’t obvious until more than 75% of the way through the book.

I said in my first paragraph above that the setting is NYU, but that university is disguised (very thinly), never named. Clues abound, and not just on the cover. Despite the obviousness, the review of the book in Publishers Weekly refers to it as “an unnamed university in upstate New York”!

Typos abound, but I suppose nobody copy-edits books anymore. There is also a pair of egregious Greek errors repeated multiple times: I am sure you are as bothered as I was by the blatant use of a phi instead of an omega and an odd version of a final sigma instead of an initial sigma. But what can you do? You just can’t find good help these days.

And why do the characters never use Google???? We all know that Google is your friend, and this book was published just last year… so why didn’t they ever use Google?

It was still worth reading, but barely so. And you asked for an example of one of the puzzles, so here you are. Good luck!

Categories: Books