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GOING FOR THE GOLD by Emma Lathen: Book Review

“Do you believe in miracles”? That was the cry of Al Michaels, broadcasting at the final moments of the improbable, impossible win by  the U.S. hockey team in 1980.

Going for the Gold takes place at those same Olympics games. John Putnam Thatcher, senior vice president of the Sloan Guaranty Trust, the third largest bank in the world, has been dragooned by the bank’s president, a member of the International Olympics Committee, to attend the games.  There’s lot of excitement, of course, as the young athletes and their coaches swirl around the Olympic Village, and there’s a lot at stake.  Some of the athletes have been working for years for the possibility of winning a gold medal, while a few have somehow made their country’s team more by luck than by skill.  But all are excited and thrilled to be at the Games.

As Thatcher watches a practice run of alpine skiing, France’s number one skier, Yves Bisson, takes a flawless leap from the giant ski tower.  He hovers in the air, and then a shot rings out.  Bisson falls to the snow-covered ground below, dead.

What is uncovered after Bisson’s death is the discovery of fraud in European travelers’ checks, with Bisson behind it.  The resources of the Sloan are put to the test, as the bank is the official bank of the Games, and additional employees are brought to Lake Placid to try to uncover how the fraud was worked.

There’s more than simply bank fraud going on at the Games, however.  Someone is hijacking supplies meant for the athletes, a Swiss female skier is accused of taking forbidden drugs, and the blizzard of the decade is stopping all comings and goings out of upstate New York.

Emma Lathen is the pseudonym of Mary Jane Latsis, an economist, and Martha Hennisart, a lawyer. Together they wrote more than twenty novels featuring John Putnam Thatcher, a banker who could solve any crime that had a financial basis; and we all know that many of them do.  Each book focuses on a particular industry or organization with ties to the Sloan.  There are books on chocolate companies, Catholic schools, the automobile industry, and the garment business.  Each shows a detailed knowledge of that particular business or group and is written in such a way as to make all the financial dealings clear to the most financially unsophisticated reader, e.g., me.

There’s a short list of recurring characters in Lathen’s books:  Thatcher, of course; his devoted secretary, Miss Corsa; Walter Bowman and Everett Gabler, bank officials under Thatcher; and Brad Withers, the bank’s president who would rather be anywhere, doing anything but banking.

While most or all of Emma Lathen’s books are unfortunately currently out of print, they’re available at many libraries and can be bought used online. Even though no more novels were written after Mary Jane Latsis’s death in 1998, there are still enough available to keep anyone reading for a long time.  These are definitely cozies, with a minimum of murder and mayhem, but with plenty of suspense to keep the reader involved until the last page.

You can read more about Mary Jane Latsis and Martha Henissart at The New York Times.

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