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Shark Out Of Water: A John Thatcher Mystery    by Emma Lathen order for
Shark Out Of Water
by Emma Lathen
Order:  USA  Can
Harper, 1998 (1997)
Hardcover, Paperback, Audio
* *   Reviewed by Theresa Ichino

This mystery stars the senior vice-president of the Sloan Guaranty Trust, the unflappable John Putnam Thatcher, who finds himself representing the bank's interests in Europe. The Sloan is a potential investor in proposed improvements to the Kiel Canal, a major waterway connecting the North Sea to the Balic. As always, the authors (Lathen is the pen name of a writing team composed of an economist and a lawyer) reduce economic complexity to an admirably clear summary, and people the mystery with a wildly diverse bunch of interesting characters. For all that the plot deals with highly-placed financial moguls, the authors present real-seeming people whose lives are very much affected by the decisions of power brokers.

In Shark Out Of Water, a freak fog creates havoc on the Kiel Canal, with collisions and accidents paralyzing traffic. (Imagine a similar situation for the Panama Canal.) Stefan Zabriski, second-in-command of BADA (Baltic Area Development Association) is ecstatic at the prospect of enlarging the canal when clean-up and repairs are made. However, he is incapable of seeing that what he views as inevitable - a major overhaul and extension of the canal - is by no means what others envision. He is irritating in his monomania; worse, his single-mindedness, even arrogance, in all matters makes him many enemies . Lathen's murder victims are well-drawn; it is easy to see why someone would feel impelled to permanently silence them.

Once again, Thatcher is drawn into murder, this time seconded by the very able Everett Gabler, another high-ranking Sloan officer. The authors have a deft touch with characters and humour. Gabler is a fuss-budget who usually disapproves of Thatcher's forays into detective work. In Thatcher's world, money makes the world go 'round and is usually the motive for the crime. However, the authors seem to understand human passions as well, as seen in various of their characters. This writing team can be counted on to deliver a well-crafted mystery with a reintroduction to familiar and likeable characters. You can learn something about smart finances, too.

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