The Last Equation of Isaac Severy: A Novel in Clues

This literary thriller (352 pages) was published in March of 2018 by Atria. The book takes you to a Seattle bookshop and LA. Melissa read The Last Equation of Isaac Severy and loved it; it wouldn't be on our site if she didn't recommend it.

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The Last Equation of Isaac Severy

A Novel in Clues

Nova Jacobs

This literary thriller set in modern Los Angeles features an eccentric family, a secret organization, a just-released felon, a struggling bookstore, a powerful mathematical equation, and death by Christmas lights. It’s glorious.

The story opens with the death of famed mathematician Isaac Severy. He was elderly but healthy. So his death — brought on by the untimely introduction of Christmas light string to hot tub water — was made all the more tragic by its suddenness. Mysteriously, he had set a nearby table with breakfast things for two people, a breakfast never to be eaten.

Isaac was the patriarch of a large family comprised of other geniuses, kooks, and a few ne’er-do-wells. They’ve all gathered for his funeral: We meet his adult children and their spouses, his grandchildren, family friends — and Hazel, his adopted granddaughter and heroine of the story.

After a very appropriate reading of an Emily Dickinson poem by a family member, a mystery man, unrecognized by members of the family, takes the podium to read one of Isaac’s mathematical proofs: ‘Let dx over dt equal A times x plus f if x…’ It’s a darkly funny, deliciously absurd scene that sets the tone for the novel: Expect the unusual.

This story features a large cast of well-drawn characters with questionable motives. It plays with the tropes of a manor house mystery, minus the enclosed setting. Although Isaac’s death has been ruled a suicide by the police, there is a possibility, perhaps, that he has been murdered.

The narrative unfolds through three perspectives: Isaac’s son Philip, a professor with ego issues, Gregory, an LA cop and brother to Hazel, and Hazel herself.

Oh, sweet Hazel! She’s a bit of a mess. Her Seattle bookshop, The Guttersnipe, is failing so spectacularly she’s given up her apartment and taken to sleeping in the backroom of her shop with an air mattress for a bed. Sponge baths in the shop bathroom have replaced showers. She’s homeless, demoralized, and broke when she receives the letter her beloved grandfather wrote the day before he died. It’s filled with riddles and an appeal —’My Dear Hazel… I am counting on you to carry out an unpleasant request…’ — that she destroy his life’s work ‘before others find it.’

While Hazel tries to make sense of the clues and questions presented by Isaac’s note, she learns more than she should about her family members’ secrets: covert love affairs, hidden identities, math that might predict the future, a clandestine hotel room, betrayals, and another mysterious death.

Although it shares DNA with a 1930s screwball comedy, this story deftly explores weightier emotional questions, like, ‘Am I living up to my potential?’ and ‘Do I fit into this family at all?’ There are fantastic surprises right up until the end, when it all comes together in a satisfying resolution.

My Dear Hazel. My time is over. This fact has become as clear to me as the crescent moon setting outside my study window as I write this. I wish I could dodge my assassin, I wish I could flee to the Cote d’Azure or somewhere equally beautiful. But our killers find us all, so why flail so desperately? Hazel, I am counting on you to carry out an unpleasant request. I would do it myself were I not being followed. Know that I am of sound mind when I ask that you destroy my work in Room 137. Burn. Smash. Reformat the hard drives. I cannot get into why, only that you must do this quickly. Before others find it. The equation itself you must keep. (I leave it with the family member they would least suspect.) Deliver the equation to one man only: John Raspanti. His favorite pattern is herringbone. Important: 1. Do not stay in or visit the house past the end of October. Three will die. I am the first. 2. Do not share this with anyone. Do not contact police, even those related to you. Nothing can be done about the above. 3. Once you have committed this letter to memory, destroy it. Shore up your courage, my dear. Eternally, Isaac — Nova Jacobs

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