Friday, April 03, 2020

FFB-Going for the Gold, Emma Lathen

Reviewed by Margot Kinberg (from our archives)

Margot Kinberg is a mystery novelist and Associate Professor at National University, Carlsbad, California. She was born in Pennsylvania, where she graduated from Indiana University of Pennsylvania. She taught at the University of Delaware and Knox College, then moved to California where she lives with her husband, daughter and dogs. GOING FOR THE GOLD, Emma Lathen

Friday’s Forgotten Books is such a wonderful opportunity to discover books that I might otherwise never have heard of that I was pleased and honored when Patti asked me to contribute.

Going for the Gold was written by Emma Lathen, the pseudonym of Mary Jane Latsis and Martha Henissart, and first published in 1981. It’s the 18th in the John Putnam Thatcher series.

In the novel, the Sloan Guaranty Trust bank is selected as the official bank of the 1980 Winter Olympic games in Lake Placid, New York. So John Putnam Thatcher, who’s a vice-president for the Sloan, is sent to Lake Placid to supervise the bank’s operations during the games. Shortly after Thatch
er arrives at Lake Placid, Yves Bisson, a French ski jumper, is murdered by a sniper’s bullet as he is making a jump. At first, everyone believes that a terrorist has struck. But then, Roger Hathaway, manager of one of the Sloan’s Lake Placid branches, reports that the Sloan has lost half a million dollars to a counterfeit scheme. Thatcher is able to put these two seemingly-unrelated events together when it’s discovered that a traveler’s check that Bisson passed was counterfeit. What’s worse is that Bisson’s not the only one who seems to have been passing counterfeit traveler’s checks, and it’s not long before Thatcher figures out that Bisson must have been involved somehow in a huge swindling operation.

At this point, suspicion begins to fall on several of Bisson’s skiing teammates, the French team coach, an
d some fellow competitors, and their backgrounds and relationships to Bisson and to each other are carefully scrutinized. While Thatcher is making sense of the counterfeit scheme, another competitor, Tilly Lowengard, is disqualified from the Olympics when it’s discovered that she made a ski run while under the influence of a drug. She maintains her innocence, and before long, it’s clear that she, too, is a victim of a ruthless killer. Just then, a blizzard strikes, stranding everyone in Olympic Village – including the murderer. Thatcher realizes he’ll have to act fast if he’s going to figure out who’s been stealing money and covering up the theft with murder.

Going for the Gold gets the reader involved very quickly. Bisson’s murder shocks everyone and it’s easy to get caught up in the action as the local police and the security staff at Olympic Village scramble to protect the other competitors. The tension and suspense stay strong as Thatcher carefully
works backwards through Bisson’s last few days to try to figure out how he might have been involved in the counterfeit scandal and who might be behind it. Adding to this is the reality that many competitors and visitors to the games face when they realize that their traveler’s checks are worthless and they’re temporarily stranded in Lake Placid. There’s also the suspense and interest generated by the inter-relationships among the competitors, especially as it’s discovered that several of them are keeping secrets.

There are also several interesting sub-plots in Going for the Gold. For example, there’s a secret marriage, another budding romance, theft from the Olympic Village food stores, and the struggles that everyone faces to deal with the heavy snowfall. Those sub-plots are well-woven into the central plot, so they aren’t distracting. They also add an interesting layer to the characters.

Perhaps the most gripping thing about the novel, though, is the snowstorm that strikes during the investigation. The snowstorm traps everyone in Olympic Village and adds to the sense of imminent danger. It also makes a fitting backdrop for the climactic scene in which the killer tries to strike one last time.

Besides the suspense, Going for the Gold features interesting characters. Since these are Olympic competitors, they come from several different countries, and all of them seem to be there for different reasons. As Thatcher finds out about their backgrounds, the reader gets to know these competitors. Thatcher, too, is an interesting and likeable sleuth. His background is in money and finance, but he’s also skilled at dealing with people, and provides a calming presence amid the hysteria that’s caused by the murder, the theft and the blizzard.

Banking has changed dramatically since this book was written, and so has bank security. So in some way
s, the novel is a little dated. There are also some dated references; for instance, some of the competitors are from the Soviet Union. It doesn’t suffer too much from that limitation, though. The interesting characters, solid suspense, and nicely focused plot make this book worth a read. No wonder that, almost thirty years after I first read it, I still enjoy it.

Tuesday, March 31, 2020

Bookshelf Traveling for Insane Times or Shelfy Selfy

Judith at Reader in the Wilderness has started a new meme: Bookshelf Traveling For Insane Times. The idea is to look through a bookshelf or a bookcase or stacks of books and share some thoughts on the books. You can find more details here and here at Judith's blog.

Now Friday is our FFB day here, so I am going to do this on Tuesday and maybe some of you will join me. I am going to do ten books at a time rather than a whole shelf. And this group is a chaotic bunch as are most of my shelves.
The bottom book is the New York Stores of Edith Wharton. A gift book and I have read one or two of them. One of the many book I have from the NYRB series. A favorite Christmas gift from Phil.I must add I am a great fan of Bleak House, Age of Innocence and Summer, three of her novels.

I have read most of Tana French but this (The Trespasser) is not one of them. My favorite is A Faithful Place.

I have read several biographies of Anne Frank. And of course her diary. As a teenager I was obsessed with the Holocaust and still am. Going to Krakow and seeing the camps only heightened the interest. Anne Frank, the biography by Melissa Muller is a favorite.

This is a James Sallis book I have not read. I think he is a beautiful writer. Cypress Grove and its sequels about a small town sheriff are my favorites. (Potato Tree)

The Devil's Own Rag Doll was written by Mitch Bartoy who was a student in one of my writing workshops. This is one of the two books Mitch published. And then he disappeared. This is a very good crime novel, set in Detroit in the forties. He and Megan shared a first Bouchercon in 2005 or 2006. I followed behind them. The first time he stood up and read a section of this in the workshop, I felt in over my head.

Jean Thompson is a favorite short story writer. I have read this one. (Do Not Deny Me). 

The Innocent is by Ian McEwan. Although I have read most of his work, I don't think I have read this novel At least the first page is unfamiliar.

Don't Look Back by Karen Fossum is a favorite.  I love her settings (Norway) and her series detective, Inspector Sejer.

Amsterdam Stories by Nescio- another gift that I haven't read. Phil was always drawn to the books in the NYRB classic series. Sadly, I doubt I have read many of them. I really have always needed to choose my own books. Either they speak to me or not. Now interestingly, he was the same way. I can't tell you how many unread books I gave him. He was even more prone to a particular interest at a particular time then I was.

The Kind of Friends Who Murder Each Other, Chris Rhatigan. Chris is a delightful guy who published many of my stories over the years. I had completely lost track of this very slim book until now. I will read it soon.

How about you? Want to share a few books on your shelf. Picture is not necessary. Do you need to choose your own books or do gift-givers do a good job of picking ones?

Monday, March 30, 2020

Best synopsis of how to take care of yourself that I have heard...

Deanna Durbin

Who quit Hollywood at the height of her fame. 

I'm Still Here

Boy, am I enjoying some of the above. THE MOVIE MUSICAL is so much fun. Just finished a chapter on Al Jolson, Bing Crosby and Elvis Presley-how each of them dominated movies of their era with their music-and yet none of them made a great musical. If you like musicals, this is your book. And it doesn't matter whether or not you like the artist or their music. It's just fascinating to watch how it all came about. I try not to be judgmental because some of the best sections have been about singers I barely know or don't particularly like their music. 

Also reading the THE FLIGHT ATTENDANT (thriller) by Chris Bohaljian, a thriller. Amazing how much he learned about how airlines function for this novel.

UNORTHODOX (Netflix) is a terrific four- part series based on the novel of the same name. Cannot praise the actress playing the lead enough. Also, although I grew up in a  Jewish community, I learned so much more about this particular sect of Hasidic Jews. Also amazing is MY BRILLIANT FRIEND's second season. Love seeing Italy before it was destroyed by you know what. OZARK looks scary as hell. What a great cast even if the plot is a little reminiscent of BREAKING BAD and other similar shows.

I finally got a grocery delivery service to deliver groceries. And a wine store to deliver wine. And I ordered $100 worth of batteries from Amazon. Even if I only drink a glass or two of wine a day, I want to have it on hand.
I just don't know what I will need to get through this. I have downloaded enough books for months and my house is filled with books I have yet to read. I followed the instructions on unloading groceries and the house reeked of bleach for hours after. Hope I don't poison myself.

I am on the phone a lot, which I both appreciate and dread. Even as a teen I hated talking on the phone. I have probably said this before. Sorry. Even though there is no cord now, I feel tethered and yesterday I spent four hours talking to people. So grateful for them checking in on me though.

Michigan and especially the Detroit area is in horrible shape, due somewhat to Trump's fight with our governor.
It is 95% his fault but still she should have known you don't shove a stick in the cage with a wild animal.

Hope things are okay in your area. Steve and I will have to tough it out separately in Detroit. A mile separates us but it might as well be an ocean. Twelve days since I saw another person.  Except from my window where they are riding, walking, skating by.

Want to calm down? Watch the Live Jellyfish Cam at the Monterrey Aquarium on you tube. Or follow Sam Neill on Instagram where he talks about nature. 

WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE MUSICAL? Even if it is not your bag you might still like STOP MAKING SENSE or HELP.

Friday, March 27, 2020

Tuesday's Gone


Another good addition to the story of Frieda Klein, the psychotherapist who helps the police solve murders in England. In this one, a man is found naked and dead, a part of a finger missing, in the home of a woman who is mentally diminished. How he got there, who he is, who she is, are all part of a pretty complicated plot. We also come to learn more about Klein, her family and friends. All of the characters receive a lot of attention. This is a well-plotted series and individual novel. One of the nice things about this series is it draws on the authors' knowledge of London as we walk through it at night and in the day. The sheer number of characters drawn well in this book is impressive.