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Literature / John Putnam Thatcher

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A long running mystery series about an investment banker/amateur detective, written by Emma Lathen (a pseudonym for co-authors Mary Jane Latsis and Martha Hennisart).

The novels in the series are:

  • Banking on Death (1961)
  • A Place for Murder (1963)
  • Accounting for Murder (1964)
  • Murder Makes the Wheels Go Round (1966)
  • Death Shall Overcome (1966)
  • Murder Against the Grain (1967)
  • A Stitch in Time (1968)
  • Come to Dust (1968)
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  • When in Greece (1969)
  • Murder to Go (1969)
  • Pick Up Sticks (1970)
  • Ashes to Ashes (1971)
  • The Longer the Thread (1971)
  • Murder Without Icing (1972)
  • Sweet and Low (1974)
  • By Hook or by Crook (1975)
  • Double, Double, Oil and Trouble (1978)
  • Going for the Gold (1981)
  • Green Grow the Dollars (1982)
  • Something in the Air (1988)
  • East is East (1991)
  • Right on the Money (1993)
  • Brewing Up a Storm (1996)
  • A Shark Out of Water (1997)

The series provides examples of:

  • Absence of Evidence: During the audit in Something in the Air, it's discovered that the murder victim had an established track record of paying cash for things but never cashed a check to get that cash. (The novel was written before ATMs became common.) The police and Sloan take a closer look at his finances, and learn the murder victim was a blackmailer.
  • Always Murder: Whatever irregularities the business of the book has, it produces a corpse at some point.
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  • Amateur Sleuth: Thatcher must solve the mystery before the Sloan can move on.
  • Briefcase Full of Money: Double, Double, Oil and Trouble opens with Thatcher and Charlie Trinkam delivering four briefcases full of unmarked small-denomination bills for a ransom payout. Even in 1978 there were better ways to transfer $1.5 million from New York to a Swiss bank, but the terrorist group behind the kidnapping wanted publicity as much as the cash.
  • Car Fu: The second murder in East is East is done by running over the victim with an older Harley-Davidson motorcycle. This probably wouldn't have worked if the victim had had time/room to dodge, but since he was in a narrow alley at the time ....
  • Comic-Book Time: Thatcher is "a youthful sixty" in all books, from 1961 to 1997.
  • Comically Small Bribe: In-universe examples in both Murder To Go and Green Grow The Dollars. In both novels, the cops can't believe that a character accepted such a small payout for an illegal act. (The payers in both novels were trying to hit a balance between "not enough to get the job done" and "so much they'll know something's up". The payees eventually figure out Something's Up and find themselves murdered.)
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  • The Disease That Shall Not Be Named: Played with in-universe in Brewing Up a Storm. One of the suspects says he has an alibi, but refuses to tell the cops what it is. He went out of town to get an HIV test, after learning a woman he'd dated had turned up positive. At the end of the novel, another character points out that the woman in question had been blabbing the news all over town for months to get sympathy.
  • Divorce Assets Conflict: In A Place for Murder, Thatcher is dragooned by Bradford Withers into trying to settle an argument over the valuation of a country estate so the owners' divorce can go through. In a variant, the fight is between the two women involved (the current wife and the woman her husband wants to marry), with the husband staying out of the mess. Becomes the murder motive once the second woman realizes neither her intended spouse nor First Wife have the slightest clue how valuable the dog-breeding kennel based at that estate is. The kennel operator was stealing all the profits.
  • Dry Crusader: Madeline Underwood from Brewing Up a Storm (until she gets killed).
  • Eureka Moment: Once per novel.
  • Fair-Play Whodunnit: The reader might not have all the solid evidence until after the fact, but does have all the clues that tipped Thatcher off.
  • Finale Title Drop: In By Hook or by Crook.
  • Forensic Accounting: It's very common for a business connected to the current murder to get an impromptu audit from the Sloan.
  • Insanity Defense: At one point in Death Shall Overcome, a character is arrested for trying to shoot up a NAACP fundraiser. His Trophy Wife and his estranged son promptly come up with the idea that he should plead insanity to "beat the rap". Being a loudmouth racist does not qualify, but since neither of them was a lawyer it's an understandable mistake ... and really, this was as much to grab control of the family money as anything else. The character's actual lawyer was pushing for a Plea Bargain instead. note 
  • Medication Tampering: The second murder in Murder Without Icing was performed by substituting cyanide tablets for the victim's cold medicine.
  • Murder by Mistake: In Death Shall Overcome, the murderer thought he was poisoning his intended victim's Bloody Mary. The poison actually got into a glass of tomato juice ordered by another character, who had recently been diagnosed with an ulcer and quit drinking as a result. note 
  • Mystery Magnet: The Sloan Guaranty Trust, "the third largest bank in the world", gets involved with a business, and some person involved with it ends up dead.
  • Nice to the Waiter: A variant — Thatcher thinks (in an early novel) that he gets good service because waiters recognize him as a powerful man. It's really because they recognize him as a good tipper.
  • Once Done, Never Forgotten: His grandson received a puzzle box for Christmas; the two of them enjoyed spending the day trying to solve it. That was enough of puzzle boxes for Thatcher, but his relatives thought he was obsessed with them.
  • Ostentatious Secret: Miss Corsa's tin box.
  • Real Life Superpowers: Thatcher has intelligence, some political influence, and of course money. In his first novel he gets answers from a reluctant airline employee because he's on the airline's board of directors. note 
  • Rich Idiot with No Day Job: Averted for Thatcher himself. He is a hard worker, and expects the same of his subordinates. Played straight for bank president Bradford Withers, who appears to see his job as a collection of social contacts. On the rare occasion when Withers takes an active role, something goes wrong.
  • The Summation: The books normally end between the murderer's arrest or suicide and his eventual trial, so this is how Thatcher gets the other characters (and the reader) up to date on just what was going on.
  • Suspicious Spending: Turns up fairly frequently, as one would expect given the frequency of impromptu Forensic Accounting audits.
    • Played with in East is East. At one point, the police inspector investigating the murder asks Thatcher if he was aware that one of his underlings had just gotten a house worth over $1 million. Thatcher tells the inspector that his records are off — the house might have been built recently, but the underling in question bought the land decades previously, well before Maui oceanfront property values skyrocketed.
  • Tampering with Food and Drink: In Murder to Go, the seasoning mix for a fast-food chicken dish is poisoned before it goes out to the franchises.
  • Too Dumb to Fool: One victim in East is East qualifies. The founder of Midlands Research has set up an elaborate bookkeeping scheme to hide the money he's stealing from the company. The victim isn't smart enough to read the financial reports, looks only at the bottom line, and asks the founder to explain where the money went.
  • Unsportsmanlike Gloating: The killer in A Shark Out of Water tried to use the crowds of soccer fans leaving a match to cover his escape. Unfortunately for him, the winning team's fans indulged in enough of this trope to set off a riot. Between the ensuing security cordon at the train station and the killer getting trampled in the riot, the police didn't need to worry about extradition hearings — they just picked him off the pavement and arrested him.


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