Friday, August 5, 2016

A Stitch in Time by Emma Lathen

Pemberton Freeman had been a wealthy and childless widower living a comfortable old age until it was found that he had cancer. Freeman put his affairs in order, and named the Sloan Guaranty Trust as the executor of his estate. He then got into his car and drove to a wooded area of Long Island which he had enjoyed as a child. He took out his gun and shot himself.  The driver of a passing truck heard the shot, rushed into the woods, carried the still living Freeman to his truck, and drove to the Southport Memorial Hospital. There, Freeman was operated on by Dr. Wendell Martin who removed the bullet which was nowhere near Freeman's heart. Freeman lived for 4 days more and died.

Freeman had left the bulk of his estate to the Institute of Cancer Research at Hanover University. Included in the estate was an insurance policy for one hundred thousand dollars (this is in 1968) with the Atlantic Mutual Insurance company. Atlantic Mutual refused to pay because of the suicide clause in the policy. Sloan Guaranty Trust took Atlantic Mutual to court because they believed that the death did not result from the gun shot. Sloan hired the outstanding lawyer Paul Jackson to represent them and Jackson insisted on an autopsy. The autopsy showed that seven hemostatic clips had been left in the body. Expert medical witnesses were called in to testify to the effect of these clips.

Dr. Wendell Martin was one of the top doctors at Southport Memorial Hospital, and Dr. Martin was extremely outspoken in his own defense. The hospital's reputation was now on the line. The nurses in the operating room at the time of this operation were told to tell nothing during their cross examination. One young nurse got panicked and gave more damaging testimony.  After her testimony, Martin wanted her fired, but the head of nursing got her transferred out of surgery to an obscure corner of the hospital.  Another doctor, Harley Bauer, who had been fired from the hospital by Dr. Martin on the evening of the operation returned to the hospital one evening to find out the latest gossip. It was on this evening that Dr. Wendell Martin was murdered near the basement exit of the hospital. His body was discovered by the young nurse who had testified against him.

John Putnam Thatcher was senior vice-president of the Sloan Guaranty Trust and head of its trust department. Thatcher also was rather skilled in solving mysteries. He was, of course, quite interested in the legal proceedings against the Atlantic Mutual Insurance company, but events after Martin's death also made him curious. Martin's widow Lucille claimed that Martin had left no money. How could a man who had been a surgeon for twenty years have no money? Surely it was hidden somewhere. After the death, the hospital had become quite subdued about the Freeman case. Why? Also some strange dealing about drug prices came to Thatcher's attention. Thatcher's careful investigation unravels all of the tangled financial dealings and also finds the identity of the murderer.

Though this book was written in 1968, the modern reader will find topics which are timely and still of interest. I thoroughly enjoy the financial mysteries of Emma Lathen. John Putnam Thatcher is a very attractive and sophisticated detective. Emma Lathen was actually two people who had met when they were in graduate school at Harvard. Mary J. Lathis was a lawyer and Martha Hennissart was an economic analyst.  There are 24 books in the Thatcher series.They also wrote books as R. B. Dominic; there are 7 books in this series. Some of the Thatcher books are available as ebooks.

I have read this book for the 2016  Silver Mystery Scavenger Hunt in the category of a book with a nurse on the cover.


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