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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)
  • 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)

Under the pen name B.R. Dominic, the authors wrote a second, political-themed series, the Ben Safford Mysteries.

The series provides examples of:

  • A Tragedy of Impulsiveness: In Come to Dust The killer steals a $50,000 bond that was entrusted to him by a colleague right before he disappeared. He mistakenly believes that his missing colleague is an embezzler, which emboldens him to pocket the bond on a whim. When it turns out that his colleague isn't an embezzler, he tries to return the bond, only to find the building locked down due to police presence. He later goes on to murder a seventeen-year-old boy to cover his tracks.
    Thatcher: Ralph was not born to be a criminal. He was an accidental one if there ever was one.
  • 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.
  • Accidental Suicide: In Murder Makes the Wheels Go Round, as the murderer journeys to kill a witness, the police (alerted by Thatcher) chase after him. When the murderer realizes that they're after him, he loses control of the wheel in a moment of shock and panic, dying in a fiery car crash.
  • All for Nothing: The villain from Murder Without Icing commits two murders to delay his creditors seizing assets that he needs for an upcoming business deal that he believes will keep him from going bankrupt. The business deal is a scam, so committing the murders wouldn't have done a thing to persevere his company and reputation, even if he hadn't been exposed as a killer.
  • Always Murder: Whatever irregularities the business of the book has, it produces a corpse at some point.
  • Amateur Sleuth: Thatcher must solve the mystery before the Sloan can move on.
  • Badass Bystander: In "Death Shall Overcome," the exposed murderer flees through the halls of the New York Stock Exchange and is overpowered by an unnamed U.S. Steel specialist who takes in how he's running from the cops.
    U.S. Steel Specialist: My boy, I don't know why they want you, but...
    With that, he pivoted and landed a competent rabbit punch. He followed this up with a short, powerful jab. The murderer folded. He did not slump to the ground since he was held erect by the crushed tangle surrounding him. The U.S. Steel specialist might be sixty and overweight, but he had not boxed at Dartmouth for nothing.
  • Big Damn Heroes: Several books (such as Murder Makes the Wheels Go Round, A Stitch in Time, Going for the Gold, The Longer the Thread, and Green Grow the Dollars) have Thatcher and his allies stop the murderer from claiming another victim by a matter of seconds.
  • 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 ....
  • Career-Ending Injury: In Right on the Money, Doug Ecker was raised as the heir to his father's business for twenty-five years before two heart attacks forced him to take early retirement.
  • Clashing Cousins: The first book involves a trust an industrialist set up for his four grandchildren. Three of the cousins squabble over how to run the family business and about their respective lifestyles, but do love each other. The fourth cousin has been estranged from the others for decades and is murdered by one of them in a fit of rage for having a Lack of Empathy about how his rival company was threatening to bankrupt his cousins' business.
  • 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.)
  • Commonality Connection: In Murder Without Icing, Thatcher (and later one of his banking subordinates) befriend a hockey player after discovering that the man is interested in business principles and owns several skating clubs.
  • Company Town: In Sweet and Low, Dreyer, New York changed its name (it used to be Roosendal, New York) decades ago to honor Leonard Dreyer, the founder of a famous chocolate factory that acts as the town's biggest employer and tourist attraction. Most of the townspeople are knowledgable about the cocoa market that Dreyer depends on. However, while the local officials are accommodating to the Dreyer executives, those executives don't really try to push them around. Thatcher also admits that the town is far nicer than most company towns due to the nature of the company and the generous spending of a trust that Leonard set up (Thatcher is one of the trustees).
    Far from being a grimy company town, Dreyer boasted a superabundance of parks, fountains, and playing fields. All these amenities, Thatcher feared, were about to become his responsibility.
  • The Con: The murder victim of Ashes to Ashes is a protest group leader trying to stop a parochial school from being torn down (along with the rest of the block) to build condos. The victim found out that he was tricked into starting the protest group solely to drive down the property values so his False Friend co-founder could buy several buildings cheap and then sabotage the protest group so the land would be expensive again once the development resumed. Interestingly, Thatcher notes that the scheme was actually legal, but that the killer, an aspiring politician, didn't want the bad publicity that would come with exposure.
  • Confess to a Lesser Crime: In Double, Double Oil and Trouble, the exposed Big Bad confesses to the bribery scheme that led to the murders (there's too much evidence to pretend otherwise) but denies committing the murders themselves, even as more evidence is uncovered. No one buys his story.
  • The Creon: In Ashes to Ashes, after the head of the Flensburg Parents League community activist group is murdered, two of his main lieutenants display this in different ways: Mary Foster, the organizing genius of the group, declines to step up while Bob Hovarth is shocked to be nominated and feels that Mary is the natural choice. Bob only accepts the job after realizing that Mary's reluctance may be out of fear that she'd be the next victim that it would be cowardly of him to assume a risk he is better prepared to fight than Mary. Actually, it turns out that Mary is the killer and is simply trying to stay Beneath Suspicion, which would fail if she was openly deciding the group's agenda (which she is manipulating to prompt a real estate selling spree so she can buy local buildings cheaply).
  • Crime After Crime: In nearly all of the books, the villain engages in some illegal or unethical scheme to make money and/or preserve a certain status with no intention of killing anyone, but then commits murder to try and either avoid exposure or keep the plan from being derailed. The only exceptions are Banking on Death, where the murder is an unpremeditated crime of passion not related to any other crime and When in Greece, where the murder is ruthlessly premeditated and a key part of the villain's plan from the start.
  • Dark Horse Victory: In Accounting for Murder, the combination of his natural incompetence and the bad publicity from the murder of an auditor guarantee that The Alleged Boss won't hold onto his job for long. His nephew and a couple of ambitious division managers consider themselves potential successors for the company presidency and occasionally behave accordingly. In the end, the job goes to the company controller, who has spent the entire book offscreen, wisely making excuses to avoid going back to the main office amidst all of the drama and police investigations.
  • Defector from Commie Land: A minor plot point in Going for the Gold has a figure skater at the Winter Olympics abruptly defect to the U.S. Unusually, her coaches and handlers don't try to stop her, or even care that much.
  • 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.
  • Even Evil Has Loved Ones: The series tends to feature the domestic lives of the various suspects, and it's rare for there to be a killer who doesn't have any loved ones (spouse, children, parents etc.).
  • Exact Words: Thatcher's subordinate Everett Gabler relishes using exact words during an investigation. In Pick up Sticks, he purchases a shoddy piece of real estate to get evidence in an investigation rather than because he wants to live there.
    ''Everett had his small conceits. One was a fancy for literal truth. "I am sure," he said, "that this transaction is going to afford me considerable satisfaction."
  • 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.
  • For Want Of A Nail:
    • Murder Against the Grain features a plot to embezzle nearly a million dollars from the Sloan. The plan unexpectedly leads to murder (which plays a big role in Thatcher solving the mystery) when one of the parties involved in the business deal sends his chauffeur to deliver a check while he's on hand rather than wait for a messenger. The chauffeur served in The Korean War with the man the thief is impersonating, causing him to recognize the deception and follow the thief home.
    • In Double, Double, Oil and Trouble, a fake kidnapping with a $1.5 million ransom is thoroughly and fatally derailed when the phony victim gets into a car accident. He gets medical treatment under a fake name, but it takes him three weeks to show up, saying he was released, instead of two days. This gains more media attention than anticipated and leaves lots of gaps in his story. Additionally, he's left with the terrifying knowledge a simple medical examination (which the authorities want done) could reveal the whole thing by picking up on his recent surgery. These complications cause a co-conspirator to silence the phony victim with a car bomb.
    • In Going for the Gold, a plan to distribute forged Eurocheques during the Winter Olympics is derailed when one of the criminals accidentally uses one of the forged checks to make a purchase instead of one of his actual checks. This attracts the attention of the authorities much earlier than anticipated.
  • Glory Days: In By Hook or by Crook, Barney Olender has a good job and is an Honorary Uncle to his boss's kids, but he clearly misses the lost musical career of his youth.
    Barney: Those were the days. Every one of us was going to have the biggest band the country had ever seen, with full houses, and people coming for miles ... But the war came and closed the roadhouses. That's why I was out of work when Paul needed someone. So I went into Oriental rugs, and I made a bundle. But you can't ever say that it's been the same for me as it was for Paul.
  • Good Stepmother: In "By Hook or by Crook,'' Harriet Parajian helped her husband seek for the missing children from his first marriage and was very kind and welcoming to them afterward. Decades later, she's still on good terms with all three kids and can talk sense into them when things are going badly. Although it turns out her husband is actually their uncle and not their father.
  • Hello, Attorney!: In Green Grow the Dollars, Hilary, the girlfriend of one of the main guest characters, is a pro bono lawyer who "would have been noticed anywhere" due to her figure and taste in makeup and clothing.
  • Hero of Another Story:
    • In Accounting for Murder, NYPD accountant Fred Cohen has just wrapped up an investigation of a mobster who he helped get deported and casually mentions that he and his superior officer got shot at by a mobster during The Roaring '20s.
    • Kate and Lorna, the archaeologists from When in Greece, make some brief references to being part of the Greek Resistance in World War II.
    • In Double, Double, Oil and Trouble, Thatcher gives his summation to two executives who missed the media coverage of the arrest due to briefly-mentioned interesting problems of their own (a CEO preventing a hostile takeover and an accounting expert and college professor thwarting her university's efforts to push her into retirement in favor of an unseasoned up-and comer. Although, given the CEO's "famous tolerance for bribery", he could qualify as the Villain of Another Story instead.
  • I Remember Because...:
    • In Come to Dust, a witness to a hit-and-run remembers three digits of the license plate because they match his own.
    • In Going for the Gold, Thatcher questions how an extremely busy salesgirl can remember a transaction involving a fake check five days after it happened.
    Captain Milliken: She says she doesn't often sell an American Indian headdress to a German.
  • I Want Grandkids:
    • In East is East, the one scene where Dr. Khan's parents appear has them urging him to date while pointing out that his sister has given them grandkids, but they'd like more. He's already married to a woman who is helping him embezzle money.
    • In Something in the Air, Mitch Scovil's sister-in-law has recently had a baby, and during Thanksgiving dinner, Scovil's mother-in-law accidentally shows frustration that Mitch and his wife haven't had kids.
  • I Need a Freaking Drink:
    • In Green Grow the Dollars, when Gloria Vandam hears that her husband and several of his relatives are murder suspects, she suggests that they have some brandy before bed and makes it clear that it isn't just for her husband.
    • Zigzagged in Double, Double, Oil, and Trouble. One of the directors of the company the mystery centers around orders a drink after hearing Thatcher's summation. Another executive gloomily reviews the company's woes and agrees a stiff drink is in order. His colleague admonishes him, going into a detailed analysis of how the situation is only bad in the short term, while the future looks bright. The alcohol is actually for a celebratory toast.
  • Ignored Enamored Underling: In Green Grow the Dollars, secretary Barbara Gunn has been in love with her boss for six years and has some bitterness about how "the woman who had moved into Scott's apartment was named Hilary, not Barbara."
  • 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 
  • In-Universe Factoid Failure: The murder motive in Pick Up Sticks. It seems the killer didn't realize the land he'd bought for a new vacation resort was part of the Appalachian Trail. Thatcher points out at the end of the novel that if the killer had done any local research, he would have learned that. note 
  • Insufferable Genius:
    • Recurring character Paul Jackson is a celebrated attorney who is always supremely confident in his eventual victory. His skill in the courtroom is everything he implies it is.
    • Scott Wenzel from Green Grow the Dollars is a self-absorbed botanist (albeit with some Morality Pets) who thinks that he's miles ahead of his rivals and doesn't hesitate to mock them. He has single-handedly outpaced the efforts of a big corporation by a wide margin and the people he's most contemptuous of are indeed incompetent and/or crooked.
  • Ivy League for Everyone: Pretty much everyone who holds a notable rank at the Sloan or one of its contemporary banks, brokerage houses, or big corporations went to either Harvard or Dartmouth. Come to Dust heavily features Dartmouth's admissions process and endowment system.
  • Karma Houdini:
    • In Right on the Money, the murderer (who has also robbed people who trust him) escapes to Europe as the police close in on him.
    • In Come to Dust, one character is suspected of being a hit-and-run driver who recklessly kills two teenagers. It turns out that he's innocent, but it's never confirmed whether the real hit-and-run driver is ever caught.
    • In Murder Makes the Wheels Go Round;
      • Former Michigan Motors president Eberhart was directly involved in a multi-billion dollar price-fixing conspiracy in the Back Story. While he had to resign, he stayed out of jail due to lack of proof, the DOJ doesn't get that proof over the course of the novel, and Eberhart still holds a lot of influence and prestige within the company.
      • Chairman of the board Dennis French is complicit in the conspiracy at least to the extent that he's hiding evidence of Eberhart's involvement months later, and also refuses to fire the executives who did get convicted after their release from prison when every other auto company involved in the conspiracy fires its malefactors. French doesn't even suffer the minimal punishment Eberhart got, and comes out of the book with his job and reputation intact.
    • While the main villain from When in Greece gets his just deserts, his circle of friends suffer nothing worse than the failure of their plan despite plotting to overthrow the government, murder a political opponent, and nationalize a foreign business under a false pretext.
  • The Meddling Kids Are Useless: Downplayed in Murder to Go. Thatcher does expose the killer, but the ending reveals that the police would have almost certainly closed the case without his help. They secretly zeroed in on the culprit several chapters before Thatcher due to a combination of opportunity and an I Never Said It Was Poison slip-up.
  • Medication Tampering: The second murder in Murder Without Icing was performed by substituting cyanide tablets for the victim's cold medicine.
  • Meet Cute: In Murder Makes the Wheels Go Round, DOJ investigator F.X. Riley runs into Susan Price, the secretary of a man he arrested, at a dry cleaner. She accidentally overshoots her basket and dumps her laundry on his head. He hands her some lingerie that she dropped, and that she's embarrassed by due to it being slightly slinky. She points out to him that he forgot to take his clothing out of the machine due to being distracted by her and that his folding methods leave too many wrinkles. The chemistry is really sealed when she asks his full name and he reluctantly complies, with the two going on dates the next several nights.
    Riley (stiffly) It is Fabian Xerxes. Father was a socialist.
    Susan: (giggling) I think it's a respectable name ... My name is Susan B. Anthony Price. Mother was a feminist.
  • Minor Major Character: Francis Devane is a partner at a bank which frequently partners with the Sloan for plot-relevant business deals, but his partner and polar opposite Tom Robichaux is always the one to interact with Thatcher and relay Devane's opinions about business deals or suspects in their social circle. The only book Devane physically appears in is Death Shall Overcome, where he attends the party where the murder takes place. Even then, he doesn't talk with any of the main characters.
  • Morally Ambiguous Doctorate:
    • The intrigue of A Stitch in Time involves a hospital overflowing with corruption and ethics breaches.
      • Dr. Wendell Martin, the murder victim, causes a patient's death through extreme negligence during an operation and (aided by his colleagues Wittke, Neverson, and Bullivant) tries to cover it up.
      • Martin has been lying to patients about their health so they'll pay him for unnecessary gall bladder removals. When another doctor confronts him about this, Martin fires him.
      • Martin, Wittke, Wittke's two sons (who are also doctors), and Neverson write their patients expensive (and sometimes unnecessary) prescriptions for drugs from a company that they secretly own while cheaply importing those drugs from abroad.
      • Martin has been accepting cash payments for operations and not reporting them to the IRS.
      • Dr. Bullivant, the head of the obstetrics department, had been performing abortions for money and writing them up as miscarriages, pre-Roe v. Wade.
      • Neverson kills Martin to keep him from implicating the others.
    • The villain in Green Grow the Dollars has a PhD in botany and resorts to murder after a failed attempt to steal a colleague's work.
  • Mouth of Sauron:
    • In the Back Story of By Hook or by Crook, Barney Olender was a benevolent version of this, buying rugs and handling business transactions for Paul Parajian while Paul worked a second job and then served in World War II. Paul hired Barney, a man with no contacts or experience in the rug trade, because he was using an assumed identity and couldn't risk being identified by any of the many rug merchants who knew the real Paul.
    • Murder Without Icing features another relatively mundane example. Victor Jowdy is a lawyer representing several unseen creditors of sports team co-owner Winthrop Holland. Jowdy's employers have tasked him with determining whether or not the sports team will make a good investment in place of Holland's debt. Because Jowdy is a representative and not an actual creditor, he avoids being murdered like another man Holland owes money to. Killing Jowdy would merely cause his employers to send another agent.
  • 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 
  • My God, What Have I Done?: In the climax of The Longer the Thread, Thatcher is horrified and distraught to realize that he's put a good man's life in danger as part of his Bluffing the Murderer scheme and desperately races to save the man's life.
  • 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.
  • No Good Deed Goes Unpunished: Downplayed in Sweet and Low. When one character offers to get the murderer a lawyer, his Sit Com Archnemesis pounces on how the guy didn't extend him the same courtesy when he was Wrongfully Accused.
    Rarely had a charitable impulse been more untimely. And, thought Thatcher, it wasn't as if Curtis Yeoman had so many.
  • 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.
  • The Perry Mason Method: A civil-case version in Brewing Up a Storm. A brewery is being sued in the Drunk Driver death of an intoxicated nineteen year old - the brewery's new non-alcoholic beer is being packaged just like their flagship regular brand, the plaintiff is claiming the nineteen year old wouldn't have gotten drunk in the first place if the brewery hadn't "put him in training" with the non-alcoholic stuff. Paul Jackson gets the witness he's cross-examining to use that phrasing in court, then starts pulling out evidence the kid had a record of drunk-driving and being suspended from school for drinking long before that non-alcoholic beer ever hit the market.
  • Persona Non Grata: After the first murder in East is East, the police come across evidence that the victim might have uncovered bribery of a Japanese official. In a failed attempt to brush everything under the rug, a representative of the Japanese government hints to the American embassy that it might be nice if American businessman (and suspect) Carl Kruger leave the country before a formal persona non grata declaration can be made.
  • 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 
  • Screw This, I'm Outta Here: In A Stitch in Time, once the "cesspool" of corruption at the hospital is exposed, many of the relatively innocent employees start taking early retirement or transferring to other hospitals before guilt by association sentiment has a chance to rear its head.
  • Second Place Is for Winners: In Going for the Gold, Olympic skier Dick Noyes comes in second to last in his event, but is perfectly content, as he sees qualifying in the first place as a sufficient achievement.
  • Secret Relationship:
    • The culprits in Murder Against the Grain have been romantically involved in secret for about a year and turn to crime to finance a new life for themselves.
    • Going for the Gold. Two of the athletes have been married for a year, but are afraid that the groom's rich parents won't approve of the bride and hope that this will change if she acquits herself well in the Winter Olympics.
    • The culprits in East is East are married, but keep it a secret so no one will think of them as co-conspirators. Not even their families know, judging from some I Want Grandkids comments.
  • Serial Spouse: Thatcher's friendly competitor Tom Robichaux is married to a different woman in almost every one of his appearances. Thatcher has difficulty imagining how he's able to pay all of the alimony.
  • Sheep in Sheep's Clothing: In Murder Without Icing, Franklin Moore is introduced as an amiable Honest Corporate Executive. Then, an associate of Moore's reveals that his planned acquisition of a hockey team will involve upheaving all of the players and staff's lives by relocating the franchise to his hometown of Nashville. He's also rumored to be planning to try and push out a co-owner who lives for controlling the team. However, once the deal falls through, Moore is quite mellow about it. After his murder, it transpires that no one outside of the hockey franchise has any reason to hate him, as he was Nice to the Waiter and treated his ex-wife and kids decently. It also turns out that Moore wasn't going to relocate the team or push out his co-owner. The person who claimed that was lying to give everyone else motives for wanting Moore dead.
  • Shoo the Dog: In The Longer the Thread, an innocuous freight forwarder helps the police gather evidence against the murderer. He's taking his grandsons on a trip to a historical site when he finds out that the killer has decided He Knows Too Much (although Thatcher and the cops are racing to be Big Damn Heroes).
    Suddenly a shadow fell across his path. Moreno turned, then stiffened. The murderer stood there, ten feet away. Nothing was said. "Boys," said Moreno, his voice suddenly lifeless. "Go down to the courtyard." He saw the murderer shift. "Go look at the cannonballs." Armando and Felipe scampered off. Moreno remained where he was. He knew quite well he was looking at death.
  • Slipping a Mickey: In Going for the Gold, an athlete is slipped OTC cold medicines right before going down the ski run. Because she never takes medications, the "drowsiness" side effect hits her much harder than normal. Because she is an Olympic skier (the setting is the Lake Placid Olympics), she makes it down the ski run in one piece and can still provide important evidence.
  • Small Name, Big Ego: Dozens of people Thatcher deals with are arrogant but can't live up to their own expectations.
    • Public relations official Lincoln Hauser (who appears in the second and fourth books) views himself as an ingenious spin doctor who needs a good challenge, when he is really a dense man whose efforts are either completely unnecessary, threaten to make things look worse than they are, or are being manipulated by a villain.
    • Klaus Englehart from Double, Double, Oil, and Trouble is involved in the bidding for an oil pipeline. By everyone's account, he spends far more time bragging about how his proposal and his company are naturally superior than he does actually trying to conform to the client's needs.
    • Craig Phibbs from Sweet and Low views himself as a genius filmmaker who brilliantly exposes greed, corruption, and sleaze in a way that enlightens and captures the public. While he does have his admirers and past successes, he's a patronizing, snide man who is too self-absorbed to realize that he has valuable evidence in a murder. He's also insulting and disrespectful toward people he wants to appear in his films, openly talking about how unflatteringly he'll portray them while expecting that they'll still be honored to accommodate him.
    • Mitch Scovil from Something in the Air considers himself a blessedly lucky, brilliant, entrepreneur and is in total denial about how his plans for expansion are full of holes, while deriding the idea that anyone knows better than him.
    • In Brewing up a Storm, Madeline Underwood views herself as an inspiring visionary and the cornerstone of the Dry Crusader moment. Almost everyone else views her as The Millstone, a Know-Nothing Know-It-All, or both.
    • In A Shark out of Water, Stefan Zabriski views himself as a Badass Bureaucrat and the Only Sane Man of the trade organization he works for. Any attempts to get through to him about his poor staffing procedures and inability to be impartial toward various shipping tycoons get an I Reject Your Reality reception.
  • The Sociopath: Robert Schneider, the murder victim in Banking on Death, is a man who seems incapable of love, courtesy, or consideration for other people's feelings, with perhaps a few exceptions like his parents and aunt but pointedly not his own sons, who he never bothered to ask his estranged wife about in letters or even take a few seconds to look down at the older boy in his cradle while coming home from work every day. He also lacks any social grace and is obsessed with his ambitions, with the murderer saying he was driven into a homicidal rage when Robert excitedly began talking to himself about a business coup that would enrich him and ruin his visitor/estranged cousin's family-owned company while acting as if the other man wasn't even there.
    Arthur Schneider: [H]e just didn't notice my existence at all; I just wasn't important enough to his plans for him to pretend, even though he was planning to ruin me and my family.
  • Springtime for Hitler: A passive version appears in Murder Without Icing. Unsuccessful entrepreneur Winthrop Holland tries to hide from his creditors by hanging around a losing hockey team that he owns a piece of, certain this will keep him below the radar. Then the team starts winning and he ends up being regularly mentioned in the sports pages of papers that some of his creditors read.
  • Start to Corpse: Often, the murder (or at least the first murder) occurs around a quarter of the way through book. However, there are a few books, such as Green Grow the Dollars and (despite initial indications) Come to Dust where no one is murdered until around the halfway point. In contrast, in Going for the Gold, there's a dead body by the end of the first chapter.
  • Stealing the Credit: Withers spends a lot of the second book complaining about how the police confiscated the majestic stuffed head of a deer he supposedly shot. The book ends with Ken mentioning this in passing to Mrs. Withers, who angrily reveals that she was the one who shot the stag (after a four-hour hunt) and storms off to confront her husband about that lie.
  • Suicide by Sea: The killer in By Hook or by Crook commits suicide by taking a small boat out to sea in the middle of a hurricane.
  • 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.
  • Unluckily Lucky: In the Back Story of "By Hook or by Crook,'' Mark Parajian was horribly injured in a construction accident and took months to recover. However, the hospital records from this accident allowed a Long-Lost Relative to track down Mark and his siblings (who were living miserably in a refugee camp) and give them a prosperous, happy life in America.
  • 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.
  • Upper-Class Twit: Bank president Bradford Withers appears to see his job as a collection of social contacts. On the rare occasion when Withers takes an active role, something goes wrong.
  • Vigilante Militia: In Ashes to Ashes, after a school is bombed (without hurting anyone or causing much damage) during the middle of a community dispute, hundreds of parents organize patrols to guard it and make sure there's no second attack. This only lasts for a couple of chapters before the killer is caught and the concerned parents find out the whole purpose of the bombing was to frighten them and distract them from other issues.
  • What You Are in the Dark:
    • This plays a major role in the Back Story of By Hook or by Crook. Shortly before World War II Haig Parajian assumed the identity of his recently deceased brother Paul to save their business from going under (everything was in Paul's name). The rest of their family was trapped in Europe by the war and then spent years living in extreme poverty in a refugee camp. He could have easily left them for dead. Doing so would have reduced the risk that they'd recognize him as their uncle and not their father. Abandoning them would have also ensured that if his deception failed, the children, as Paul's legal heirs, would never take away the millions of dollars Haig made running the business. Instead, Haig tracked them down in 1948 at no small expense and then spent the next 30 years raising them as a loving father. His youngest nephew Greg (who feels that Haig truly became Paul) returns the favor in the denouement of the novel, destroying evidence of Haig's true identity when he could have used it to sue Haig's wife and (actual) son for their share of the family fortune.
    Greg Parajian: I don't know how I'd face up to murder, but I'm sure of one thing. If I'd been in his shoes, I would have done exactly what Paul did in 1939. And I can only hope to God that I'd have acted the same in 1948.
    • In many books, John exposing the killer will further the Sloan's financial purposes and can be seen as Enlightened Self-Interest. However, there are other books, such as By Hook or by Crook and Murder Without Icing where exposing the killer will cause the Sloan financial difficulties and/or send someone John likes to prison for murder. In those cases, Thatcher could easily keep quiet and do nothing, but he still tells the police what he knows and ensures the killer won't escape justice.
  • Why Are You Looking at Me Like That?: In By Hook or by Crook, Thatcher explains how the killer's motive involved being afraid that his family would turn on him if a certain Dark Secret got out, given how an obnoxious in-law had been opposing him in every way lately. Said in-law summarizes everyone's (otherwise un-described) reaction to Thatcher's statement by saying, "I don't see why you're all looking at me that way."
  • You Have Outlived Your Usefulness: When in Greece has the heroes do this. Since they lack the evidence to see the killer convicted of murder in court, they settle for using what evidence they do have to blackmail him into honestly facilitating the business deal that he's been trying to sabotage. As soon as that deal is finalized, the murderer is killed by a friend of the victim who's been helping Thatcher. Thatcher hadn't known she would do that, but he isn't broken up over it.
  • Your Makeup Is Running: In Brewing Up a Storm, "tears and tissues" smear the makeup the victim's secretary is wearing when the police interview her. She only wears mascara on half of her face, making her smeared makeup more disconcerting.