MURDER FOR LUNCH by Haughton Murphy


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You may be reminded of Emma Lathen as pseudonymous first-novelist Murphy (partner in a Manhattan law firm) sets the scene for this Wall Street murder-mystery: the opening chapters are crisp, suave, and wry while introducing several of the principal characters, all attorneys on their way to work at powerful, staid Chase & Ward. There's complacent murder-victim Graham Donovan, 57, a dapper widower who's having a secret affair with a colleague's wife. Even more complacent is George Bannard, the firm's wily yet fatuous Executive Partner. And the sleuth-to-be is septuagenarian Reuben Frost, once the firm's brightest star, now an under-utilized, slightly bitter lawyer in ""of counsel"" semiretirement. So, when Donovan collapses of an apparent heart attack at lunch, it's reliable Reuben who's put in charge of the post-death ""arrangements""--and who discovers the evidence of slow-acting poison in the dead man's water pitcher! After that, however, Murphy's plotting slides from plodding to serviceable to amateurish. The suspects are a contrived assortment: the cuckolded husband; a larcenous secretary; a hostile son; etc. Reuben's investigation, in cutesy tandem with a Puerto Rican cop, is less than convincing. Worst of all, the denouement features a dull revelation from out of left field--and a long, redundant confession/wrap-up. Still, despite some rather stilted dialogue, Murphy's sketches of Wall Street law-life are shrewd, deglamorizing, drily amusing. (At a dinner dance, ""kissing by partners of associates' wives and women associates was neither permitted nor expected. Kissing of male associates by partner's wives was optional with the wives."") And wise, droll Reuben could become a welcome series presence--that is, if he returns with more presentable mystery-puzzles than this one.

Pub Date: March 1st, 1986
Publisher: Simon & Schuster