Casting Emma Lathen

Emma Lathen is (or "are"; "she" is two women collaborators) a mystery writer. Her amateur detective is John Putnam Thatcher, the second or third in command at the second (or third) largest bank in the world: the Sloan Guaranty Trust. He resides on Wall Street where, through luck, curiosity and inside knowledge, he ends up solving murders committed amongst bankers, accountants, business owners, stockholders and so on and so forth.

It is a great mystery series and despite being, now, rather dated, it would make a great television series. In order for it to work, however, it would have to done with at least a vaguely positive attitude towards capitalism. It simply wouldn't work if the whole thing was aimed at showing how corrupt and underhanded and Enron-ish the United States Stock Exchange is. Thatcher himself is a very content banker. He is also conservative, though not rabidly so, and intensely interested in specialized areas of finance. That is, he and his friends don't sit around yammering on about the purpose of life a la Oliver Stone. They talk about stocks and bonds and exchange rates, etc. etc. etc.

In fact, a really good production would include the slight amusement that Thatcher feels towards people who want him to be all soulful and unhappy in his chosen profession. In one book, an earnest non-profit producer wants to film Thatcher holding an artistic vase as the definitive image of callous and unfeeling businessman everywhere. Thatcher is appalled at the idea; does the producer really think he would manhandled an expensive, and uninsured, vase!?

The first step in creating the production is the main cast: a police officer, Miss Corsa and, of course, Thatcher. In many of the books, various police officers interview Thatcher, drawing him into the case or, as the case may be, giving him necessary information to solve the case. The police officers change in every book, but for the series, there would need to be just one (or one with a partner).

Miss Corsa is Thatcher's secretary: efficient, proper and one of his links to the "ordinary" (that is, non-billionaire) populace. I picture her as being a lot like Miss Lemon on Poirot or Miss Moneypenny in Keen Eddie (outside Eddie's imagination). I would make her Thatcher's love interest, but in a very subtle, unstated way. She's okay with her boss kissing her and stuff, but she really loves her job, and she has absolutely no desire to become his high-society wife, so, well, honey, that's nice, but did you finish your paperwork yet?

Before I get to Thatcher himself, I will cover the secondary cast (regularly appearing extras). They would include Everett Gabler (the Spock of the Sloan) who would play straight man to the ebullient Charlie Trinkam (Thatcher's immediate subordinate) who I see as a Wall Street version of Greg from CSI: Vegas. Also amongst the secondary players would be Tom Robichaux, Thatcher's closest associate outside of the Sloan, who is always in the process of getting divorced from the latest Mrs. Robichaux (rather like the dad in You've Got Mail); Laura Carlson, Thatcher's daughter and his source for inside knowledge concerning high society balls and other shindings (which he doesn't like to attend); Brad Withers, the president of the Sloan, a guileless, rich yacht owner who is continually putting his foot in his mouth (and whose associates are always sending him off on trips to keep him from making actual decisions).

Thatcher himself is not the stereotype of the hyperactive Wall Street yuppie. For one thing, in the books, he is about 60 (and, as in so many book series, he stays 60 for about 25 years). For the purposes of the television series, I would take off 15 years or so, making him 45-50. He is a widower, which detail I would keep. He is a hard worker, laid back, a man who likes puzzles and is reasonably extroverted but has a core of reserve that keeps his associates from getting too personal (although they bring personnel problems to him all the time). Approachable but not intimate. He is a confident man, with a degree of charisma, the degree of which he himself doesn't realize. (In the books, he is continually confided in, turned to or put in charge of things without his direct encouragement.) He is always trying to get his associates to stick to the everyday job and always getting sidetrack by murders and such. He is a conservative. I picture him as a cross between Thomas Gibson and Mandy Patinkin (but much less intense than either). Cary Grant in older guy, businessman mode.

And, naturally, he needs a love interest. There's no love interest in the books, other than Thatcher's interest in and appreciation of female beauty. But a TV series needs a love interest. As suggested above, I would make it Miss Corsa. I originally thought of making his love interest a police officer, a woman of about 35-40 who has worked her way up the ranks to detective, has a blue-collar background (like Miss Corsa) and is a little contemptuous of Thatcher's high society background. (There has to be tension!) She would be an expert, however, in white collar crime. I saw her as being an American version of DS Barbara Havers (Sharon Small) in the Detective Lynley mysteries. I chose Havers because although Lynley is sometimes brought down a peg for his lordly condescension towards Havers, Havers is not the insightful cockney who understands reality so much better than her rich boss. Their relationship is more complicated than that.

I turned to Miss Corsa as the love interest because she is spends more time with Thatcher; the police don't play that big a role in the books. (Of course, a television series that starts with the crime would likely increase that role.)

To sum up, despite my mention of Havers and Lynley, I don't see the Emma Lathen series as being terribly complicated psychologically; financially complicated, yes, with shrewd insights into human nature. But not PROFOUND (heaven forbid)!

In other words, the series would need to be a kind of a Wall Street CSI, the expertise being finance, rather than forensics. It would have to be funny, and it could never get all MAKING STATEMENTS ABOUT GREED IN AMERICA-ish. Unfortunately, I'm not sure that any current producer could keep him/herself from heavy-handed commentary. Maybe in a hundred years, it will be done as a historical series. 

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