Edward Parry stood in an alcove with Nat Schuyler. Like everyone present, he looked simonized for the occasion. The lurking fear of television had triggered a wave of five o’clock shaves and clean shirts. In all other visible aspects, Parry was a credit to Nat Schuyler’s acumen— that is, he was a replica of a Wall Street financier with a dark skin. The net result was that his teeth and shirt looked cleaner than anybody else’s. His slow, considered speech and steady handclasp as he acknowledged their greeting confirmed the impression of integrity, reliability and conservatism. A man of property at every point. In a happier era he might have been a Republican.
commentary: Each of the highly-enjoyable Emma Lathen books deals with a different aspect of business, finance, or American life. When they are listed out, this one has the word ‘integration’ beside it. The wary reader is quite nervous as to what a 1966 Wall St novel will make of the subject, but the book though ‘very much of its time’ (as I always say, about everything in the slightest bit worrying, but in a book that I like) takes most of the hurdles relatively well.
The plot trigger is that an old-established Wall St firm has taken a big decision:
“Schuyler & Schuyler want to take in a new partner and get him a seat on the Exchange.”And it is salutary to realize what a big deal this was in 1966. There is trouble from all sides over the decision – including objections from a financial firm who do a lot of business in Harlem, and don’t want their investors lured away to the mainstream. There are threats, and deaths, and attacks: and there are large-scale demonstrations. All this is dealt with in a basically-liberal-minded but even-handed way by Lathen, just as you would expect.
“He’s a Black man,” said Everett Gabler quietly.
Blog reader Aurora recommended this one after reading my entry on the splendid Ashes to Ashes by Lathen (on the blog last year). She said
I ADORE Lathen, the books are all so fun! She writes a hilarious riot, I must say. One of my personal favorites is Death Shall Overcome, where the New York Stock Exchange "welcomes" its first black member. There are a few delightful clothing moments, and Thatcher gets to deliver the line, "You are in great beauty tonight, Mrs. Parry," which I find a lovely compliment. The bank gets invaded by protesters (who are pro Edward Parry, the new member in question) and Thatcher fights back in a magnificent style.And I totally agree with her – this is an excellent entry in a marvellous series. And it is indeed hilarious – Lathen has set up the characters surrounding series sleuth John Putnam Thatcher in such a way that (although these are by no means comedy books) the jokes just keep on coming, she fires them out one after another.
You have to know something about Bradford Withers, the President of the Sloan bank, to know why this is so funny:
“What do you think the Board of Governors will do about Parry?” Thatcher intervened to inquire.
Bradford Withers’ chief virtue, as well as his most outstanding defect, was transparent truthfulness. “I haven’t the remotest idea,” he said with enough hauteur in his voice to suggest that the Board of Governors of the New York Stock Exchange was not the sort of group that a Withers cared to understand…
Going to the office in the morning was, under certain conditions, perfectly reasonable behavior to the president of the Sloan. Going there after dinner smacked of the bizarre.Then there’s this about another character:
“Glover tells me that Owen Abercrombie has gone crazy.”
“How could he tell?” asked Thatcher with genuine interest.
“Says he’s talking about a Wall Street Defense Council,” said Robichaux. “With rifles. You remember they had to take his uncle Basil off the Floor in a straitjacket, in ’29?”There are the demostrators and pickets hanging round a distinguished law firm:
Idly Thatcher inquired about the message of the placards which had descended on Carruthers, Broadside & Pettigrew. “That’s just it!” said Carruthers with unusual heat. “Most of them simply said ‘Justice.’ And that’s a fine thing to be parading around a law office!”There is a weird passage discussing what might happen to a gun which was furtively dropped off at the dump at a suburban area called Katonah
“I understand they’re sifting through the Katonah dump. It would be just like that lunatic to toss his rifle there.”
Trinkam was sympathetic. “Hell of a job.”
“Oh, I don’t know. It’s a model dump. Won a prize or something,” Jackson said, displaying yet another piece of esoteric information. “Just the sort of thing Katonah would have.”
“Then it’s the kind of dump that will probably have vaporized this rifle within twenty-four hours.”
“No,” said Thatcher and Jackson simultaneously. Charlie Trinkam every now and then displayed a powerful ignorance of life as it is lived outside the confines of a metropolitan district. He would have been far more at home in the center of Peking than in South Orange, New Jersey.
“Scavengers,” explained Thatcher clearly. “In fact, in Katonah, it’s probably antique dealers who inspect the throwaways.”
“That’s right. A good rifle would be picked up right away. One of the dealers got a fine Oriental off the trash heap up in Westchester.”
I quoted that at length because it is to me so very much the kind of passage that is typical and so enjoyable about the Lathen books – not really relevant but funny and weird and fascinating. (Katonah is a real place, and the chances are that this info is entirely accurate about the town dump in 1966.)
Charlie moodily pecked at his salad, unprepared to contemplate this strange and exotic way of life.
There is a splendid glittering fund-raiser full of important characters all dressed up: I was sorry not to be able to find suitable images of that, but the available illos tend to show marches and demonstrations and speakers with megaphones – not a black tie event with women in evening dress.
In fact I was unable to find any integrated pictures at all of a business situation.
The images I have used are from fashion ads of the era.
Thanks again to Aurora for recommending the book.