Archive for February, 2012

A Stitch in Time (1968) – Emma Lathen

Posted in Classic Mystery Reviews, Emma Lathen, History of Mystery, Mysteries with tags , , on February 14, 2012 by cshmurak

Imagine the business world without computers, without cellphones, without the Internet. Imagine a book with a Wall Street banker as a hero/detective. That is the world of John Putnam Thatcher, vice president of the Sloan Guaranty Bank, the third largest bank in the world. Thatcher appears in two dozen books by Emma Lathen, who was actually two women, Mary Jane Latsis and Martha Henissart. The two women managed to keep their identities a secret from 1961, when they began the series, to December 1977, when they were identified publicly for the first time in Forbes Magazine.

In each book, Thatcher becomes involved in a different business because of its association with the Sloan: a chicken franchise, a hockey team, the auto industry etc. In A Stitch in Time, Lathen takes on the world of medicine and pharmaceuticals. A lawsuit brought by a Sloan client against an insurance company leads to an investigation of a small hospital in Long Island. Before long, one of the principal doctors in the hospital is murdered, and the entire staff of the hospital is under suspicion. When Thatcher hears that there is money missing from the murdered doctor’s estate, he pricks up his ears: it is money, after all, that makes his world go around.

Lathen plays fair with the reader, making it possible to figure out at least some of what’s going on at the hospital and who the likely culprit is. The list of doctors, nurses, lawyers and bankers is fairly long, making the book a bit difficult for readers who are unfamiliar with the usual cast of characters at the Sloan Guaranty Bank, but once one figures out who is who, the book moves along nicely. The time period is a bit shocking for readers under 50, as people still smoke (even in the patients’ lounge at the hospital!) and the issue of criminal abortions is raised (it is 5 years before Roe v. Wade). But there are funny moments, and Thatcher, who never ages in the series, is a good detective in the traditional mode. Like Lord Peter or Nero Wolfe, he has others doing a lot of the legwork while he hobnobs with the upper classes at the yacht club.