Monday, May 5, 2014

2014 Classic #5

Accounting for Murder – Emma Lathan

Mary Jane Latsis and Martha Henissart, attorney-banker and economic analyst respectively, had to write under the pen name of Emma Lathen, lest their Wall Street superiors and colleagues take umbrage. Heaven knows they’d be put out, wondering if they were the models for delicate male egos and whiny babies that posture as formidable captains of industry. For instance, in this one, a composed secretary has learned to bring her boss, the president of a computer company, what he, an ex-quarterback for Harvard to boot, craves most in times of stress: a glass of milk.

In this 1964 mystery, an accountant is found strangled with his own adding machine cord. He was an outsider that was hired by a pack of disgruntled stockholders so there are plenty of suspects inside the company. Series hero John Putnam Thatcher, senior VP for Sloan Guaranty Trust, an investment banking concern, is dragged into the investigation because his bank is heavily and foolishly invested in the data processing company. As in comic mysteries generally, Thatcher, though canny and quick-thinking, finds himself haplessly caught in zany situations. I can’t assert that the humor is of the LOL - knee-slapping variety, but readers who savor James Thurber’s quiet satirical bomb-throwing will enjoy dry and wry Emma Lathan. In fact, in 1965 this novel was a runner-up for the Golden Dagger Award given by the Crime Writers Association, taking second to the still-readable The Far Side of the Dollar by John Macdonald.

Between 1962 and 1997 (when Latsis passed away), the duo wrote as many as 24 novels featuring Thatcher’s adventures. They are marked by highly literate writing, genial satire of Wall Street and the business world of Madmen, and concise descriptions of how business used to deal with government contracts, logistics, R&D, and production in those bygone days when our financial titans actually focused on investing in making things instead of crashing the housing market.

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