Using economics principles to resolve murder mystery …Book review of Murder at the Margin

You know something is seriously wrong with the economics profession when must read books are rarely mentioned in the reading list.

I just came across this wonderful thriller novel – Murder at the Margin- where the protagonist (who is an econ prof) resolves the murder mystery using tools of economics! Hence the name – Murder at the Margin. The novel is written by two econs – William Breit and Kenneth Elzinga. The duo jointly used the pseudonym Marshall Jevons based on Alfred Marshall and Walter Stanley Jevons, the two classical economists who were behind the so called marginal thinking. The duo have written three novels under the pseudonym with Murder one being the first.

I came to know of this novel by reading another book on economic history (review later). This is not surprising really. As we ignore econ history, we ignore such books as well. I was reading somewhere that these novels were used to introduce eco to students, but don’t see it anymore.

Ok. So now to the book.

Well, all these books have a central character – Prof. Henry Spearman of Harvard who resolves mysteries using basics of economics. Just like other such thrillers we have a common guy here as well. This character is largely modeled on late Prof. Milton Friedman though there are some differences as in Prof. Speaman’s wife is not an economist and so on.

Now, it is really difficult to write such books where you try and stitch the plot around economics ideas. So, in that way this novel appears rather amateurish and cannot be compared with the other such thrillers which have no such constraint.  But it still does a good job of introducing some econ concepts like utility, opportunity costs, game theory, consumer behavior, import duty free areas etc etc.

What is amazing is how the Prof. uses economics to resolve the murder mystery. When he goes to explain the police that he could use economics to find the culprit, the police of course was not one bit amused. And just as Sherlock Holmes would say “It is elementary Mr. Watson”  when explaining deductions he had made, similarly Prof Spearman says “it is elementary economics..Mr..” 🙂

The book starts with a series of murders on a fancy resort. Of course, the Prof has also come to the resort for a holiday. What follows is a typical mystery with allegations flying across the people. The text introduces econ concepts wherever it can and does quite a neat job.


Pretty good stuff from the duo and Marshall Jevons. Only if economists could actually write such stuff and the profession rewarded them, we could have had more such books.

Highly recommended…provided you can find a cheap copy..


One Response to “Using economics principles to resolve murder mystery …Book review of Murder at the Margin”

  1. Midnightbreakfast Says:

    Its a grt idea this. More such work should be encouraged.

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