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.
Murder to Go – Emma Lathen
The Sloan Guaranty Trust has invested 12 million dollars in Chicken To Go, a home delivery chicken franchiser, when hundreds of their customers are taken ill – with one codger’s death in Elmira, NY – due to product tampering. That is, the Chicken Mexicali was dosed with zinc salt. Our series hero, John Putnam Thatcher of the Sloan bank, unwittingly finds himself with the responsibility of protecting Sloan’s huge investment with a little investigating of the case. He uses the investigation to sidestep another responsibility, however: getting involved in the cut-throat office politics of planning an anniversary reception for a colleague.
Published in the late Sixties, this is the 10th of the 24 Thatcher business mysteries. Lathan gently satirizes company cultures, corporate fads such as mega-mergers, and franchisers, who range from the rich to people who sunk their life savings and life into the business. She also deftly describes the range of troublemakers, from those just born to raise to hell to those who fight out of fear of the future and everything else.
Lathen’s portrait of the founder of Chicken To Go is a portrait of a stoic business executive who exercises self-control so his emotions won’t cloud his business acumen and practices negative visualization (identifying the worst thing that can happen and taking measures to stave it off). Thatcher concludes: “Thatcher was beginning to appreciate why Frank Hedstrom had shot to the top in the business world. Understanding money is a rare talent. Understanding people is even rarer. Understanding both is damn near nonexistent.”
Thatcher has the knack for ingratiating himself with all kind of people. So he’s able to put disparate pieces of the puzzle together to arrive at the reveal. Still, he’s rather a funny detective in that he doesn’t do much except talk to people. He doesn’t stir the pot like a Perry Mason does.
The reveal is a little twist on the “gather all the suspects in a room” gambit. Like other Lathen mysteries, the small pool of suspects makes this a little bit easy to figure out, but the prose is so agreeable that I don’t have any qualms recommending this one who like old mysteries
Be warned that there is something in the Lathen novels that makes us post-2008 Great Recession readers feel bittersweet: Lathen’s between the lines assumption that, follies and foibles notwithstanding, captains of business and Wall Street executives are essentially honorable and, like us ordinary people, want what best and decent for the country – an assumption of course that nobody not a ninny believes nowadays.