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Mystery Monday Review – A Place for Murder

A Place for Murder by Emma Lathen

Review by Matt B. (BuffaloSavage)

There’s no way to make any money in cattle in Connecticut but a wealthy gentleman farmer keeps a herd of Anguses anyway. He also depends on the help to run an up-and-coming dog breeding kennel, another hobby of folks with a lot of dough. Unfortunately, in middle age he has kicked over the traces, impregnated a canine handler half his age and thus feels the honorable thing to do is divorce his wife of 20 years to the comic consternation of their son the college student.

Splits between wealthy business partners who are also husband and wife involve complex negotiations concerning property settlements. So our series hero, John Putnam Thatcher of the Sloan Guaranty Trust, is brought in to facilitate the settlement. Shockingly, the other woman ends up killed and so does another victim and Thatcher must solve the mystery.

Lathen trains her satirical eye on corporate America and a rural enclave of the very rich. She skewers corporate jockeying when the PR man of the Sloan is striving to get a seat on the Board of Directors, an outcome the conservative Thatcher is valiantly opposing. All the leading characters are middle-aged men with the usual problems of that sad demographic but the women – wives, secretaries, clerks – make the system work and further their ends in the indirect ways the oppressed and canny have developed over time immemorial.

Every Lathen novel seems to have a slapstick scene of public mayhem that’s hilarious. So, the dog show is an extremely well-done set piece, with funny interplay between fierce rivals competing hard for best in breed and show.

Published in 1963, the second Thatcher murder mystery gives a part to the recurring character, young Ken Nicholls. He met his wife in Accounting for Murder so in this one Jane is expecting their first and Ken is comically concerned about her delicate condition and spending too much time away in The Constitution State. The other members of the gang also play funny parts – perfectionist Everett Gabler and man about town Charlie Trinkam and Miss Corsa, Thatcher’s implacable PA. The inept and dense bank president Brad Withers plays a much bigger role in this one since he is brother to the wife in the troubled couple.

Well-worth reading, one of the best of the 24 book series, though it was only the second written.




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