Aubrey Hamilton is back today to kick off this first week of July with her review of Death Shall Overcome by Emma Lathen. Another book and a series I have not read. I won’t be rectifying that anytime soon as there is way too much going on around here. I hope you have better luck.
A few days ago someone in one of the mystery-focused Facebook groups asked the members to identify their favorite Emma Lathen title. Emma Lathen is the pseudonym of economist Mary Jane Latsis and attorney Martha Henissart. Their financial and legal expertise formed the backdrop of their mysteries, which each highlighted an industry or socioeconomic issue (fast food franchises, grain exports, parochial schools, professional hockey, the Winter Olympics). Inevitably money in some form is the impetus for the crime. No psychological suspense, no serial killer, no love triangle: money and the lack of it or the desire for more is front and center.
It is difficult to choose among the entries in a long and almost uniformly excellent series but I decided that Death Shall Overcome (Macmillan, 1966) was among my candidates for favorite. I then realized I had not re-read it for some time and pulled my worn paperback copy off the shelves. Its themes are timeless and I found it stands up to the passage of 50 years quite well.
Wall Street is in turmoil as one of the oldest brokerages among them proposes a black man for a seat on the New York Stock Exchange. The octogenarian owner of the brokerage has chosen Edward Parry of Atlanta -- Yale graduate, Rhodes scholar, and multimillionaire -- to break the color barrier at the NYSE hard on the heels of the signing of the Civil Rights Act. (The authors were only a little ahead of reality: Joseph Searles III actually became the first African American trader on the New York Stock Exchange floor in 1970.)
At the formal reception where Mr. Parry is to be introduced to the New York financial community, one of his prospective colleagues drops dead. Everyone assumes the cause is a stress-induced heart attack until the autopsy discovers nicotine poisoning. Then someone shoots at Mr. Parry as he leaves his house one morning. Protests, counter-demonstrations, and wild rhetoric ensue. (A number of the scenes from this book could have been ripped out of last week’s newspaper.) John Putnam Thatcher, senior vice-president of Sloan Guaranty Trust, the third largest bank in the world, is drafted to try to calm the various groups while the Exchange processes Mr. Parry’s application for a seat and the police search for the killer. His own knowledge of the financial world and his involvement with the people most affected lead him to the identity of the culprit.
Part of the charm of this series is the inside look at the Sloan, which is very much like any large corporation with its internal politics, quirky personalities, and relatives of the president to be worked around. The supporting cast of characters that appear in each book are similar to office colleagues everywhere and invest the story with a personal flavor as well as help Thatcher’s investigations. This particular book is full of visually complex scenes that would film nicely: the sit-in at the main Sloan bank, the NAACP fundraiser, Thatcher and his colleagues hiding from demonstrators by riding the Staten Island ferry back and forth.
As always, the well-written story is witty and tightly plotted. If Emma Lathen is an author new to you, this book is an excellent place to become acquainted with her work.
- Publisher: Macmillan Pub Co; First Edition (June 1966)
- ISBN-10: 9997518446
- ISBN-13: 978-9997518446
Aubrey Hamilton © 2017
Aubrey Hamilton is a former librarian who works on Federal IT projects by day and reads mysteries at night.