In The Naturalist, we meet Professor Theo Cray, who is a computational biologist. His claim to “fame” is the creation of a computer model which looks for trends using biological data to predict. On a field trip to Montana, he finds himself drawn into an investigation into the killing of one of his former students. He is first a suspect, then a pariah when his theory goes against law enforcement’s conventional wisdom. Neither is a great position to be in when you are an outsider.
“What do I know that they don’t? It’s not any one thing. My expertise isn’t deep in any field. My papers, my research, my life have been about drawing connections from very different fields. My domain is how things are related. I trace life cycles. I look at gene flows. I build computer models and search for real-world analogues. I seek out systems and circuits. Whether it’s the nitrogen in our bodies that came from fertilizer plants or it’s our genes for coding specific proteins that evolved a billion years ago. Systems can go laterally through space. Others move linearly through time.”
Author Andrew Mayne has created a wonderful character in Theo Cray. A brilliant scientist who ends up being a murder investigator and rather than sense the danger ahead, plows on in search of the truth. My daughter and I occasionally read the same book at the same time…sort of our own little book club. Well we both loved The Naturalist so much that we plowed forward and read the second in the series.