Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Mount TBR #2

I read this book for the Mount TBR Reading Challenge hosted over at My Reader’s Block from January 1 – December 31, 2015. The challenge is to read books that you already own.

Epitaph for a Lobbyist – R. B. Dominic, 1974

An indiscreet memo leaked to the papers by her own daughter implicates Shirley Knapp, lobbyist for energy and oil companies, in a possible case of bribery. The vote to kill a pollution control provision in a new law cost $50,000 in 1974, which would be about $235,000 in today’s purchasing power. Series hero Congressman Ben Safford (D, OH) is named chair of the committee to investigate the charge of bribery.

When Shirley Knapp is found shot to death in her car, Ben leads his committee members as they formally and investigate the bribery, which they assume is linked to Knapp’s murder. Val Oakes and Lou Flecker are canny veterans of politics, both conservative, though in different parties. Elsie Hollenbach is a California liberal, moralistic but politically adept. Tony Martinelli is machine Democrat from RI, practical and realistic. Their conversations are intelligent and believable.

Suspicion falls on the three congressmen that voted to kill the proviso. Although this really limits the number of suspects, I didn’t see whodunit until the reveal. The fair play really is amazing. We are indeed given all we need to know. The reveal proves that we missed the obvious as do our hero congress members. It is often the case that the really sophisticated can be in the end very simple.

The authors of this book were Mary Jane Latsis, an economist, and Martha Henissart, an economic analyst. Both knew from their professional experience that astute people will in fact get distracted and miss what is staring them in the face. They know how people at all levels think and act in business and government. Obviously specific issues are dated (as is the non-partisan respect the politicians have for each other), but classic are the treatments of how people with agile minds and deep experience deal with novel situations. That timelessness is what makes these R.B. Dominic novels – there are seven --worth reading still.

These authors also wrote a couple dozen business mysteries under the pen name of Emma Lathen. Perhaps to distinguish the style of R. B. Dominic, they use the mildly annoying wont of always modifying a verb meaning “say” with an adverb or adverbial phrase: “said reminiscently” or “roared in anger.” Also, people don’t just say things they “mutter,” “interject,” “murmur,” “bleat” and so on. It’s a habit we expect from a whodunnit writer of the 1920s.

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