This is going to seem like an odd way to start this review, but stay with me a minute while I describe a scene from one of my favorite old movies, Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House. Mr. Blandings (Cary Grant) purchases a wreck of a house in Connecticut. When he brings an engineer out to look at the property, the engineer tells him to tear the house down.
“Tear it down!” an incredulous Blandings shouts.
“If your sills were shot and your timbers was okay, I’d say fix her up,” replies the engineer. “If your timbers were shot and sills was okay, I’d say fix her up. But your sills are shot and your timbers are shot.”
Here’s where I’m going with this: If this novel were fun but implausible, I’d go along with it. If this novel were serious but had some modicum of believability, I’d go with it. But it’s not fun and it’s not plausible. So I’m gonna have to go with “Tear her down.”
Them plot devices look terrible.
The Last Equation of Isaac Severy is a mystery about a mathematical genius who dies by what appears to be suicide, electrocuted in his jacuzzi by a string of lights. Most of Severy’s progeny are geniuses, too, but rather than entrust his work to one of them, he leaves a mysterious note to his adopted granddaughter Hazel, the owner of a struggling bookshop and just about the only member of the family to not get an 800 on the Math portion of the SATs. In the note, he tells Hazel to destroy his work, which she can find in a mysterious Room 137, except for “the equation,” which she must give to a man who likes herringbone patterns.
Ok, some interesting cloak and dagger to start. This plot has potential, and I liked the idea of a mathematical mystery. Rather than have fun with it, though, the novel introduces one tiresome character after another. The Severy family are all semi-despicable; that is, unpleasant enough that you wouldn’t want to hang out with them, but not interesting enough to be outright hate-able. Isaac’s son Philip is superior, looking down on his “ordinary” daughter Sybil and succumbing to an extramarital affair in the midst of tragedy; his daughter Paige is the heartless shrew of the family, whom nobody else likes; his grandson Alex, Paige’s child who had been living abroad, is supposed to be charming, yet his reading of a mathematical equation at the old man’s funeral suggests a touch of the Asperger’s, truth be told. There’s also a mysterious businessman, also trying to get his hands on the equation, who hides his true identity for no convincing reason, although the author does at least make an attempt at a flimsy reason after the reveal. All these characters mixed together could spell tremendous fun, but they are just so dreary. Hazel is the down-to-earth, non-biological outcast with whom the reader is supposed to sympathize. She’s fine, I guess. . . ? But relatable shouldn’t have to mean boring. She’s also in a terrible relationship with her boyfriend who eventually breaks up with her over the phone, conveniently leaving Hazel open for a potential romance with oddball Alex, who may or may not be trying to beat her to the equation.
The writing is overwrought. For example, as Philip contemplates an affair with a Ukrainian graduate student, he considers, “Anitka had grown up in the Ukrainian countryside, where beautiful girls were everywhere, six-foot goddesses hatching out of the ground like white turnips. And they weren’t suffocated with praise as they were in the States; they weren’t told from the age of five how lovely they were, because beauty had little value in a country where one was just trying to survive to the next week.”
White turnip, purple prose. To-mato, to-mahto
The equation itself, when we learn what it supposedly does, is pretty outrageous. Also, Isaac’s plan to have Hazel rediscover the formula relies on any number of unlikely pieces falling into place. Like I said, if I were enjoying the ride, I’d be happy to entertain these improbabilities. . . . but I wasn’t, so I didn’t.
I really wanted to enjoy this novel for two reasons. First, I haven’t read a good mystery in awhile, and this plot had potential. Second, this is author Nova Jacobs’ first novel, and I love to come upon delightful gems from new authors. Unfortunately, the components of this novel just didn’t add up for me.