My rating: 2 of 5 stars
"To-oo Make Life Bright
Have Chi-i-cken To-oo-nite!"
Murder to Go (1969) is my first novel by Emma Lathen, a pseudonym of a mystery-writing duo of economists, Mary Jane Latsis and Martha Henissart. Alas, it is not a particularly auspicious introduction to the authors. I may try to read another book of theirs, but my interest has substantially decreased. Wikipedia tells us that all mysteries by Emma Lathen are situated in the world of business and that each novel deals with a different type of industry. While indeed the complicated business/finance/economics matters are presented in a way accessible to a layman reader like myself, I tend to be less interested in business activities than in watching gray paint dry on a gray wall.
John Putnam Thatcher is a senior vice-president of Sloan Guaranty Trust, "the third-largest bank in the world". The bank happens to be financing the Chicken Tonight company, a chicken dinner home delivery franchising operation that has been booming under the leadership of Frank Hedstrom. Mr. Hedstrom "built up a million-dollar business - almost overnight": he is a "boy wonder" in the business world and he is planning to expand into other areas by taking over an insurance company.
But then 72 people in six states are hospitalized with acute food poisoning and the health authorities quickly establish that Chicken Tonight is to blame. The seemingly accidental poisoning was in fact the result of tampering with the food ready be delivered. One of the victims dies so that the police and other government agencies now have to deal with murder. The authorities suspect a disgruntled employee. However, it is actually Mr. Thatcher who solves the case and uncovers business machinations that underlie the tampering.
We learn a lot about various aspects of franchising business and gain insights into the basics of finance:
"When trouble befalls a debtor, there is a period when he covers up, when he minimizes his predicament, [... when] he is the one who does the worrying. But let things go really sour and positions get reversed. The creditor does the worrying, and the debtor holds the whip hand."The novel also provides slight comedy relief: one of the threads describes preparations to celebrate work anniversary of a high-ranking employee of the bank. The preparations are so elaborate that they virtually bring all other activities of the third-largest bank in the world to a standstill.
This competently written and somewhat engaging mystery might be quite interesting for readers interested in business intrigues. Certainly not for me.
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