Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Mount TBR #24

I read this book for the Mount TBR reading challenge 2014.

Murder Makes the Wheels Go Round – Emma Lathen, 1966

In the glory days before the oil shock of 1973, Michigan Motors aims to turn the Big Three into the Big Four. Trouble is that first it must mend its reputation which was sullied by three of their top executives going to prison.

The trio that was convicted of price-fixing has just been released from the joint. Rumor has them either welcomed back or shunned by the company. Our series hero, investment banker John Thatcher, is also worried about the future of the company. He’s been sent to the Motor City by his employer, Sloan Guaranty Trust, to investigate the prospects of the company, if any.

One of the ex-cons, the talented and forceful Ray Jensen, is found shot and stuffed into the back seat of a limousine. Suspects abound. Wahl took Jensen's place and has no plans for demotion. Krebbel, the new president, wants to minimize messes and move on. Jensen's wife and her lover, another company exec, have an obvious motive. Jensen’s jail bird buddies and their wives fret about being abused again.

The novel has a couple of problems. It’s more a novel of manners than mystery since there are no clues. Granted, it is like a golden age mystery in that the reveal strains credulity. Picking knits, I have to say that I’m from near Motown. I was disappointed in the authors when they created the Grand Island Tollway in Detroit when actually the Grand Island North and South Toll Bridges are in Western New York. Also, there is no Elwood Street and Sebago Road intersection in Detroit since the former street is in a northern suburb and the latter road does not exist in that metro area. Disappointing since even before Google, accurate and complete paper maps existed for writers and editors to consult.

Her sarcastic digs at car guys typify New York City attitudes about Detroit, even in its heyday. The PR field and its practitioners are energetically mocked. In this outing, her dry, witty dialogue reveals character and moves the plot. The prose style is stylish, like a Talk of the Town piece in the New Yorker. I think the characterization of the hero works best. Thatcher is an updated version of the gentleman detective. He is intelligent and talented but doesn’t make a big of show of it. He does get off sharp nifties when the situation calls for it. He genially carries on even when Lathen puts him in zany situations.

Emma Lathen was in fact two women. Mary Jane Latsis was an economist and Martha Henissart an economic analyst. So when they are talking about business conditions from the late Sixties to the early Nineties, they know what they are talking about. They wrote under a pen-name in order to protect professional associations, mostly captains of industry with fragile egos.

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