Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Accounting for Murder: Emma Lathen


Why did I read this book? Lots of reasons, including the fact that I like Emma Lathen's John Thatcher series. But the immediate reason was that I saw it on a post about Tax Day Crime Fiction at Mystery Fanfare, which included a list of Accounting-Accountant crime fiction titles.  I started the book on Tax Day (April 15th) and finished it the next day. I found it to be an entertaining short mystery, which is not surprising since it was a reread.

John Thatcher is a banking executive who encounters many murders in the banking world.  There are 24 books in the series and I have read all except the last two. Each book centers around a particular kind of business and the reader gets a picture of the banking industry in years past, and details of the various businesses. Thatcher works on Wall Street, but often he travels to other parts of the country or outside of the US.

In Accounting for Murder, Thatcher gets involved with investigating the problems at the National Calculating Company. A group of irate stockholders want the company to be audited to find out if the losses of most divisions are due to inefficiency or fraud. Thatcher has an entertaining group of co-workers and friends. Tom Robichaux, investment banker and old friend, pulls him into the problems at National Calculating.

The murder doesn't occur until 70 pages into the book and this is over a third of the book. That is fine with me. I like it when the author spends some time introducing the characters and the situation before the murder occurs.

In Whodunit? A Who's Who in Crime & Mystery by Rosemary Herbert, Emma Lathen's two series protagonists are described:
Thatcher is rich, handsome, unattached, and endowed with keen intelligence and a huge store of common sense. Safford is a government insider. Both men, in the Golden Age tradition, solve crimes by noticing and remembering details that are more or less furnished to the reader but whose significance is lost to everyone else.
One aspect of the Thatcher novels is the selection of clever chapter titles, that in some way reflect some aspect of each book. In Accounting for Murder, one of the characters is Mr. Fortinbras and chapter titles are related to Hamlet . In Murder to Go, set in the fast food industry, the chapter titles are all elements of a recipe.

Also interesting in this book is the role of women in business and development in the 1960's. Margaret Cobb is described as one of the most competent scientists at National, yet she has played second fiddle to several young male scientists who have headed her department. Not unusual at all for the time, but it is a bit unusual to point out that discrepancy in a book written at that time.

One reviewer says:
More impressive than the murder plot is the insider’s tour that Lathen conducts through the halls of corporate America, circa 1964. The glimpse offered here of that go-go culture is highly satirical, but Lathen’s use of satire hardly lessens the accuracy of her portrait.
See the full review at Only Detect.

Accounting for Murder was short listed for the 1965 Gold Dagger. That year Ross Macdonald won it for The Far Side of the Dollar. Emma Lathen was the joint pseudonym of Mary Jane Latsis, an economist, and Martha B. Henissart, a lawyer.

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Publisher:   Pocket Books, 1974 (orig. pub. 1964)
Length:      190 pages
Format:      Paperback
Series:       John Putnam Thatcher, #3
Setting:      Ontario, Niagara Region
Genre:        Mystery
Source:      I purchased my copy.


22 comments:

  1. TracyK: As you know I really like this series. I do always think of the sleuth as "John Putnam Thatcher" rather than "John Thatcher". The former fits the patrician banker. It is pretentious but I cannot think of him without his middle name.

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    1. You are right, Bill. I hadn't even realized it. In the book he often referred to as Thatcher, or John when he is directly addressed in conversation, but otherwise he is always called John Putnam Thatcher, which does suit him, never John Thatcher. He is a great character.

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  2. Glad you enjoyed it, but not a book or author I'll be looking out for myself.

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    1. Well, we both have more books than we can realistically read, so I can live with that.

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  3. I'm glad you enjoyed this one, Tracy. I've always liked the series, myself. I think it was innovative (especially at the time) to have the sleuth not be a PI or a police officer, etc.. And the novels always do give an interesting 'inside look' at banking and finance during those years.

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    1. Margot, Lathen is one of my favorite authors. I look forward to reading the last two, since they were written in the late 1990s. I can't remember if she updated the setting as she went along, although I know Thatcher stayed around the age of 60.

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  4. I still have to try the Lathen collaborations - thanks TracyK, I really must dip in!

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    1. Lathen's Thatcher series is definitely worth trying, Sergio. I hope you get to them someday.

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  5. Hey Tracy, I like the set-up in this one and it sounds good as well. Thanks.

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    1. It is a good series of mysteries, Keishon. I often don't like amateur detectives, but Thatcher usually just gets pulled into a situation. And I do like the way the stories are told.

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  6. I like the looks of this book.

    You have a very nice blog.

    ENJOY!!

    Thanks for stopping by my Book Blogger Hop.

    Happy Hopping!!

    Elizabeth
    Silver's Reviews
    My Blog Hop Answer

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    1. Elizabeth, the Thatcher series has been a favorite of mine for a long time. It is comfort reading.

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  7. Tracy, I didn't know there was an "America's Agatha Christie." But then, I'd never heard of Emma Lathen either. On the face of it an accounting-accountant related crime fiction sounds a tad boring though this does sound like a good mystery.

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    1. Prashant, I dislike it when one author is compared to another. I like Christie, I like Lathen, but no need to make comparisons. Of course the edition I read is from the 1970's. Lathen's novels are somewhat like Christie's in that they are not bloody or gritty and they are cerebral, not action-oriented.

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  8. Bravo! Well done! I am persuaded. Now I must find my own copy of Lathen's book.
    (And isn't it bizarre when two people join to become one author! I cannot imagine that kind of cooperation in writing.)

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    1. I agree, R. T. I cannot imagine how two authors collaborate but they did a good job with it.

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  9. I read a lot of the Lathen books in the 1970s, and enjoyed them, and felt I was getting insider info into the worlds of business and finance. When I re-read them now, I still enjoy them, but they feel so historical! the role of women, the lack of computers and other technology....

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    1. I love reading books where computers and technology are not so dominant, Moira. I read these in the 70s and 80s, I guess, then reread a bunch about 10 years ago. Still have many that I would like to reread.

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  10. As an Accountant in my day job, I should probably give it a try. (Although if management saw it sitting on my desk they'd probably start a file (or another file!) on me in Human Resources)

    I love the old adding machine on the cover - which reminds me I need to start practicing for my company's "2nd Annual" 10-key challenge" (I know. I wish I were joking!) :-)

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    1. As an accountant, Jay, I am sure you would enjoy this. Although I am sure I read most of Lathen's books within a few years of when they were published, as I have reread them I have enjoyed the picture of business dealings in earlier decades. The 10-key challenge sounds like fun. At least for those not competing.

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  11. I've only read one of Lathen's books (A Stitch in Time), but as much as I enjoyed it, I'm sure I'll be looking for more to read. Great review!

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    1. I am sure you will enjoy them if you try more of them, Bev.

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