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Mystery Monday Review – Murder Against the Grain

Murder Against the Grain by Emma Lathen


Review by Matt B. (BuffaloSavage)


This is the sixth of the 24 Wall Street mysteries starring amateur sleuth John Putnam Thatcher. An investment banker at the Sloan Guarantee Trust, he finds himself embroiled in shenanigans in high finance and murder.

The plot involves an early trading treaty between the US and USSR, set in 1967. On the basis of the treaty that sent surplus US grain to the inefficient USSR, an elaborate theft cheats the Sloan bank out of nearly a million dollars. Lathen takes Thatcher through a typical series of absurd situations. The Cuban Navy buzzes ships in New York harbor. Ukrainian nationalists protest. The Leningrad Symphony practices in the CCNY basketball arena. A stage-Russian impresario imports a troupe of Russian otters that eat only smelt marinated in vodka. After a Russian trade delegation tours a US potato chip factory, where they are served various dishes involving chips, one member concludes nobody could defect after having potato chip soup.

Emma Lathen was the pen-name of Mary Jane Latsis, an economist, and Martha Henissart, an economic analyst. They bring much knowledge of business transactions and office life to their novels, which give them authenticity. The theme of “Money makes the world go ‘round” is very strong. They also have a keen sense of the absurd. Thatcher is a committed capitalist although he knows that human fallibility is real enough that lying, cheating, and stealing must be constantly guarded against. Latsis and Henissart, probably both Republicans, were conservative enough not to kid themselves about the ability of Wall Street to “self-regulate.”


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