Solving Equations, Solving Crimes with Camille Minichino 

The East Bay author pours her own math-and-physics expertise into her mystery novels.

The sleuth of Camille Minichino's Periodic Table Mysteries is retired physicist Gloria Lamerino. The Fluorine Murder involves arson. The Lithium Murder involves a dead janitor. The Beryllium Murder and The Nitrogen Murder both involve Berkeley. Creating Gloria was easy, as Minichino herself has a Ph.D in physics from Fordham University, teaches at Golden Gate University, and is on the staff of the Lawrence Livermore National Library.

She drew upon another personal interest for another series, the Miniature Mysteries. Published under the pseudonym Margaret Grace, these five novels feature miniaturist Geraldine Porter, who fashions tiny replica rooms with the same eye for detail that she brings to solving murders, with the help of her preteen granddaughter and fellow crafter, Maddie. Like Geraldine, Minichino is a dedicated lifelong miniaturist and dollhouse enthusiast, well-versed in craft-fair etiquette and the Lilliputian perfection of thumb-size sofas and lentil-size plates.

Set to launch next summer under the pseudonym Ada Madison, Minichino's newest string of whodunits follows the adventures of spunky college math professor Sophie Knowles.

"My publisher wanted another series, so I dipped into the part of my life that was not yet a mystery series and came up with a college math teacher. I've been teaching college — math, physics, philosophy, and now writing — since the Sixties," says the East Bay author, "so it seemed about time that I created this character."

In The Square Root of Murder, set for a July 2011 release, Sophie strives to clear a grad student's name after an unpopular chemistry professor is found slain.

"Sophie is fun to write since she has the same love of numbers that I do," said Minichino, who hosts the Castro Valley Library's (3600 Norbridge Ave., Castro Valley) Mystery Reading Group. On Tuesday, January 4, the club discusses Sarah Andrews' novel In Cold Pursuit. February's meeting will cover Jennifer Lee Carrell's Interred With Their Bones, and March's meeting will address Kathy Reichs' 206 Bones. New members are always welcome.

Writing about math-professor Sophie is not difficult for Minichino — but she had a bit more trouble when developing Sophie's boyfriend, Bruce, who works as a medivac helicopter pilot: "I wanted someone in the core cast of characters to have an exciting, dangerous job. Math is very exciting to me, but not to everyone, and seldom dangerous. I have a friend who is a pilot with an air-rescue company. He and his colleagues were incredibly generous in talking to me, touring me around their facility, and answering questions."

Sophie's boyfriend is also an ice-climber — "more excitement and danger," noted Minichino, who weaves crafting into this series as well by making Sophie's best friend, Ariana, the proprietor of a bead shop. When the two pals bead together, Ariana urges Sophie to loosen up on the rigidly geometric — that is, mathematical — patterns. 6:30 p.m., free.

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