Why don’t accountants feature more often in crime fiction? For every accountant who turns up in a mystery, there must be a hundred lawyers, and yet you would think that accountants are very well placed to indulge in criminal activity. Perhaps they are just better at getting away with it?
My question was prompted by the fact that one of the two narrators in Barbara Vine’s The Birthday Present, which I reviewed the other day, is an accountant. It has to be said that Vine, aka Ruth Rendell showed no interest in her character’s work, and portrayed him as a pretty dull dog. But it doesn’t have to be so. Some of my very best friends are accountants, and in person they are as varied a bunch as any other group One of the accountants I used to work with played drums in band that later became The Beatles.
Emma Lathen (actually, the pen-name concealed the identities of two female writers) wrote about a banker-sleuth called Thatcher, and one of her novels (a pretty good one) was called Accounting for Murder, but accountant-authors who write crime have always been thin on the ground. Perhaps one of the reasons why lawyers crop up so much more often in the genre is that so many crime novels are written by people who are either lawyers or have had legal training (it’s a long list that even includes such luminaries of long ago as Wilkie Collins.)
Richard Henry Sampson, who wrote as Richard Hull, is probably my favourite accountant-author; he emerged during the Golden Age, but his books were by no means conventional puzzles. His ironic mysteries weren’t uniformly successful, but almost all contain an interesting idea or two, and they deserve to be better known.
The recent film Deception, which I talked about a few weeks ago, is a contemporary examination of the criminal potential of accountancy, and a pretty good one. But I’m sure there’s scope for plenty of other interesting accountancy-linked mystery fiction. In the meantime, are there any really enjoyable examples I’ve missed?