Monday, December 29, 2014

Mount TBR #37



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

Murder in High Place - R. B. Dominic, 1970

When combative Karen Jenks is recalled from a small South American country where she was conducting research for her master’s thesis, she demands that her congressman help clear her name,. Her rep in D.C. is series hero Benton “Ben” Safford (D., OH). He starred in seven mysteries between 1968 and 1983. This is the second in the series.

Ben’s default setting is to do his best by his southern Ohio constituents. So, only reluctantly does he get involved in a matter that touches on foreign affairs. Just before a meeting at which he was going to discuss Jenks’ case, a foreign aid bureaucrat is bashed on the head and tossed out a window. Ben and his staff are also put in the poor position by Karen Jenks, who is beautiful, bright, and noisily suspicious of everything and everyone. Her obnoxious character is strong and attractive in a novel of vividly drawn insufferable characters. Also, many sensitivities and interests complicate matters for Ben’s office, the country's embassy, the State Department, and the Washington police.

The reader gets the feeling of being privy to a closed world of insiders. However, given the novel was published in 1970, it feels in other ways like an artifact of a bygone age. Political disagreement is not a barrier to personal respect and friendship, an idea that seems quaint in our era of the institutionalized partisan divide. The conservatism-lite feels old-fashioned too. As we’d expect, people left of center are condescendingly dismissed as strident na├»ve utopianists. But John Adams and Theodore Roosevelt-like asides indicate the powerful elite in the public and private sectors are unscrupulous, undemocratic, and power-hungry so they need close minding and strict regulating.

The light tone is urbane and droll, the dialog suave and amusing. This is only what we would anticipate from R. B. Dominic, which was the pen name of two American businesswomen, economist Mary Jane Latsis (1927 –1997) and lawyer Martha Henissart (1929 - ). They also wrote under the name of Emma Lathen, with the series hero John Putnam Thatcher, a Wall Street investment banker before that job title became synonymous with “villain.”

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