Thursday, October 29, 2009

Friday's Forgotten Books: Going for the Gold by 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 Thatcher 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, and 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 ways, 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.

2 comments:

  1. This sounds like a great one! I've never heard of it...but then, it's forgotten, so that would make sense! :)

    Thanks for the heads-up. I love Patti's forgotten books.

    Elizabeth

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  2. Elizabeth - I know what you mean! I learn about the greatest books by reading those Friday contributions : ). It was a lot of fun choosing one of my own to "showcase."

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