Review: The Last Equation of Isaac Severy / by Madeleine Riley

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Note: Top Shelf Text received a copy of this text from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own!

The Last Equation of Isaac Severy is an upcoming novel that mixes contemporary family drama with an intellectual mystery. Typically, I read mystery books containing literary clues, but in this, Nova Jacobs crafts a mystery surrounding mathematical clues. The story begins with the death of a family patriarch, Isaac, who is renowned for his brilliance in predictive mathematics. His life's work -- ultimately unfinished -- was to map out the traffic patterns in LA to predict accidents and improve the city's quality of life.

After his unexpected suicide, Isaac's adoptive granddaughter Hazel travels to LA for his funeral and discovers that Isaac has left her a puzzling letter. In it, Isaac trusts Hazel with the future of his secretly complete equation, but warns her that a secret organization is also in pursuit of the finished product, with nefarious plans for its use. Hazel finds herself adrift within her own extended family as she tries to solve the puzzle while honoring Isaac's request that she be the only Severy in possession of the clues.

What puzzled me the most in this book was not the actual mystery itself, but the Severy family tree. For the first 100 pages I really struggled to parse out who each character was and how he/she was related to Isaac. After I was able to memorize the various branches of the family, I found the story much easier to follow. The story itself has multiple viewpoints, with each one contributing to the solving of the puzzle in its own way. I liked that the plot was actually mysterious -- I certainly never guessed any of the multiple twists and turns -- and that for each character, there was some amount of depth. Even those characters playing peripheral roles had complexity, though I found it hard to empathize with many of their choices. In the end, I really enjoyed the story and flew through the last couple hundred pages. This debut novel was a pleasant surprise, especially given that I normally shy away from dysfunctional family dynamics in contemporary literature.

Bottom-Line Rating: 4/5


  • Title: The Last Equation of Isaac Severy
  • Author: Nova Jacobs
  • Publisher: Touchstone Books
  • Price: $17 on Amazon
  • Source: Touchstone Books