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Saturday 2 January 2021

‘The Mathematical Murder of Innocence’ by Michael Carter

Published by Book Guild Publishing,
28 September 2020.
ISBN: 978-1-91355102-5 (PB)

When Sarah Richardson is arrested for the murder of her two young children, the case ends up at the Old Bailey in London.  Mrs Richardson maintains that her babies died as a result of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, an explanation that is challenged when the prosecution presents Sir Michael Goodwin as an expert witness.  Goodwin is a professor of paediatrics and specialises in child abuse.  He calculates that the probability of two cot deaths occurring in the same family is one in 72 million.  When evidence from the boys’ post-mortem examinations seems to support the professor’s conclusions it looks as though Mrs Richardson is indeed guilty of double murder. 

The case takes an unexpected turn, however, when one of the jury members questions the evidence.  Martin Fielding is an engineer for an offshore design consultancy and a fan of crime dramas. When called up for jury duties, he is delighted to be assigned to a murder trial that has already made news headlines.  As he listens to the eminent professor, though, the young man’s understanding of statistics convinces him that the case for the prosecution is fundamentally flawed.  He is barely able to contain himself when the defence fails to challenge Goodwin’s testimony.  Martin finds himself torn between fulfilling his role as an impartial observer in the court room and interjecting to contradict the prosecution’s case.  Several of the jury members discount Martin’s concerns and consider him to be arrogant in the extreme when he dares to challenge the experienced and esteemed medical practitioner. Undaunted, Fielding continues to deconstruct the medical specialist’s assumptions about probability even when it puts him at risk of being stood down from the jury or even held in contempt.  The tussle between Fielding and Goodwin pits youth against age in an encounter made even more gripping and immediate because it is narrated in the first person by the young protagonist.

I am no mathematician, but that mattered not a jot because Michael Carter tells a great story.  The author skilfully uses the jury’s deliberations to explain the theories of probability as the fictional engineer explains why the expert’s calculations are inaccurate.  The tight plot and occasional personal diversions ensure that tension increases steadily as Martin’s narrative steers us through the trial. 

The Mathematical Murder of Innocence was inspired by a real court case that took place in 1999.  It is a well-constructed, gripping, and at times heart-rending courtroom drama.  Intriguing, enjoyable and highly recommended.

Reviewer: Dot Marshall-Gent

Michael Carter grew up in Norwich, then studied engineering at Cambridge and Ocean Engineering at UCL, before designing and installing offshore oil platforms - just like the story’s narrator. Later he did his own Brexit and moved to France, and after an MBA at INSEAD (top of his class) he spent the rest of his career in senior management positions in electrical multinationals (CEO of Socomec Group and Vice President at Legrand), before retiring in 2018 to go sailing, mountaineering and write thought provoking books. He lives in Grasse in the South of France, is married, and has three daughters, two dogs and a sailing boat. Although this is his first novel as a writer, he has honed his writing skills over the years, since managing multinationals takes a lot of bi-lingual skills in communicating new concepts in as interesting a manner as possible. 

Dot Marshall-Gent worked in the emergency services for twenty years first as a police officer, then as a paramedic and finally as a fire control officer before graduating from King’s College, London as a teacher of English in her mid-forties.  She completed a M.A. in Special and Inclusive Education at the Institute of Education, London and now teaches part-time and writes mainly about educational issues.  Dot sings jazz and country music and plays guitar, banjo and piano as well as being addicted to reading mystery and crime fiction.  

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