Emma Lathen Biography


(Masterpieces of Fiction, Detective and Mystery Edition)

Mary Jane Latsis and Martha Hennisart, the two personalities behind Emma Lathen, first met in the 1950’s as graduate students at Wellesley College. They resumed their friendship in 1960 and began a literary collaboration that would span nearly four decades and produce more than two dozen novels. Latsis was born in Chicago and studied economics at Wellesley. She later moved to New York to work in corporate finance. Hennisart studied law and worked for the Central Intelligence Agency and the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization in Rome before returning to Wellesley to teach.

A common interest in crime fiction and a similar dissatisfaction with the quality and range of contemporary works in the genre led them to form a literary partnership in 1960. As they both worked in the corporate world, Latsis and Hennisart decided to adopt a pseudonym to avoid complications with business clients who might worry that their private affairs would end up as material for their mysteries. They devised the name Emma Lathen, comprising components of each of their names. Emma approximates the “M” from Mary and the “Ma” from Martha, while Lathen comes from the “Lat” of Latsis and the “Hen” of Hennissart. Later novels appeared under a second pseudonym, R. B. Dominic.

Latsis and Hennisart divided the labor by writing alternate chapters of their books—Latsis with a pen and a legal pad and Hennisart on a manual typewriter. When a manuscript was complete, they reviewed it for inconsistencies before producing a final draft. Their first book, Banking on Death, was published in 1961 to wide critical acclaim and introduced the mystery world to the character of John Putnam Thatcher, a corporate financial officer and amateur sleuth, and the hero of their long-running Thatcher series of crime novels. Murder Sunny Side Up, the first in a second crime series featuring Congressman Ben Safford, appeared in 1968.

After the pair achieved greater prominence, Latsis and Hennisart gave up their corporate jobs and purchased a house together in New Hampshire, where they spent part of every year writing and hiking in the White Mountains. Their identities eventually became known, but Latsis and Hennisart remained intensely private about their personal lives and avoided public attention and interviews.

Latsis died in 1997 at the age of seventy, shortly before the publication of Shark Out of Water (1997), the twenty-fourth novel in the Thatcher series.