Emma Lathen Analysis


(Masterpieces of Fiction, Detective and Mystery Edition)

Emma Lathen is a pseudonym used by the writing team of Mary Jane Latsis and Martha Henissart. Latsis, an economist, and Henissart, a lawyer, looked to their professional journals and activities for ideas and information to create the Emma Lathen novels, which make a witty contribution to the tradition of the amateur sleuth whose specialized knowledge leads to the solution of crimes. Even readers unfamiliar with the language or activities of the world of high finance can enjoy the explorations of the workings of Wall Street and the financial shenanigans that lead to murder.

Lathen’s ability to condense the complicated world of corporate finance into a recognizable form for the uninitiated, while framing it in the tradition of the Golden Age of mystery and crime fiction, was something of a novelty in the early 1960’s. The mixture of business and murder allowed Lathen to address a wide range of social issues (and political ones in the Ben Safford series). It also provided rich fodder for expanding the dimensions of the traditional mystery novel. Lathen received the Crime Writers’ Association’s Gold Dagger Award for best crime fiction in 1967 for Murder Against the Grain, the Ellery Queen Award from the Mystery Writers of America in 1983, and the Agatha Award for Lifetime Achievement in 1997.


(Masterpieces of Fiction, Detective and Mystery Edition)

Bakerman, Jane S. “A View from Wall Street: Social Criticism in the Mystery Novels of Emma Lathen.” The Armchair Detective 9 (June, 1976): 213-217. Useful study of the sociological aspects of Lathen’s John Thatcher mystery series.

Dubose, Martha Hailey, with Margaret Caldwell Thomas. Women of Mystery: The Lives and Works of Notable Women Crime Novelists. New York: St. Martin’s Minotaur, 2000. Contains an essay on Lathen, which describes the working relationship between Latsis and Hennisart and describes the novels as aging well because of the modernity of the subjects covered.

Keating, H. R. F., ed. Whodunit? A Guide to Crime, Suspense, and Spy Fiction. London: Windward, 1982. Keating’s short entries on the partnership between Latsis and Hennisart and major characters in their novels contain some useful information but have little in the way of literary criticism.

Mahoney, Mary Kay. “Wall Street Broker John Putnam Thatcher.” Clues (Fall-Winter, 2001): 73-82. Proves a character analysis of Lathen’s broker-turned-detective Thatcher.

Storhoff, Gary. “Emma Lathen.” In Great Women Mystery Writers: Classic to Modern, edited by Kathleen Gregory Klein. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1994. Contains a study of Lathen’s life and writing. Also includes Internet resources for mystery and crime-fiction enthusiasts.

Symons, Julian. Bloody Murder: From the Detective Story to the Crime Novel—A History. 3d ed. New York: Mysterious Press, 1993. Charts the evolution of crime fiction from the classic, cerebral detective story to the later, more visceral crime novels. Written by an accomplished crime novelist. Provides background for Lathen’s work.

Thomas, Robert McG. “M. J. Latsis, Seventy, Emma Lathen Writing Team Collaborator.” The New York Times, October 31, 1997, p. D23. Obituary of Latsis describes her collaboration with Henissart.