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Mystery Monday – Come to Dust

Come to Dust by Emma Lathen

Review by Matt B. (BuffaloSavage)


The title of the seventh mystery starring banker John Putnam Thatcher is a quotation from Shakespeare’s play Cymbeline: “Golden lads and girls all must, as chimney sweepers, come to dust.”

Despite this somber tagline, Lathen’s comic procedure continues in the usual manner. That methodology involves the send-up of an industry or institution. In this case, the ducks in the barrel are the hapless upper-level college administrators, party animal alumni, knuckle-dragging students, and blockhead parents, all connected to the Ivy League halls of august if fictitious Brunswick College.

A recruiter for the college disappears, perhaps with a $50,000 bond representing a gift to the college. At the half-way point of the book, a pesky prospective student is stabbed to death. The mystery end of things is secondary to the attention on characters and their milieu. The college administrators focus first on fund-raising and second on recruiting new students instead educating current students. The alums focus on football, the annual excuse to party like they were 30 years younger. As for the students, one janitor says the young person he gave directions to could not have been a student because he was “too polite.” Chowderhead parents and muttonhead benefactors are alternately getting hysterical and threatening litigation. Readers who work at a university will snicker in recognition that things haven’t changed much since 1968.

The series hero remains Wall Street banker John Putnam Thatcher. He is in rather a supporting role in this outing. This is balanced by Lathen’s sly observations about being female in male-dominated big business. Lathen was the pen-name of Mary Latsis and Martha Henissart, two Boston business executives with doctoral degrees. Anybody who’s worked in an office will recognize the authentic feel of how people who’ve worked together a long time get along. Also interesting are their takes on Sixties phenomena such as friction between the generations and the urge among the middle-aged to do like Siddhartha, which Lathen considers an irresponsible shirking.


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One Response to “Mystery Monday – Come to Dust”

  1. Mary S. (mscottcgp) , says:

    One of my favorites Emma Lathen books!

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