Book Review: The Mystery Of The Invisible Hand

Looking for a last minute book to purchase this holiday season for the bright business or economics student in your life? Perhaps the student in your life appreciates mixing economic theory with murder, as in The Mystery of the Invisible Hand by Marshall Jevons.

Marshall Jevons is the pseudonym of economics professors Kenneth Elzinga of the University of Virginia and the late Trinity University economics professor William Breit.

Professor Breit was a beloved figure on campus at Trinity in San Antonio, TX before he passed away in 2011, remaining connected to students and his department in the years following his retirement.

Elzinga and Breit created the fictional murder-solving Harvard economist Henry Spearman.

Spearman – who wins the Nobel Prize in Economics at the start of this novel – applies economics principles to solve murders. Think Hercule Poirot meets Milton Friedman.

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Trinity University in San Antonio, TX

In The Mystery of the Invisible Hand – the fourth in a series of Spearman mysteries, the economist-detective arrives as a visiting professor at Monte Vista University in San Antonio, TX – a transparent portrayal of San Antonio’s Trinity University.

Each chapter begins with a passage or quip from a famous economist.

Inside jokes of the economics profession abound – like naming a character Bruce Goolsby, a thinly disguised reference to Austan Goolsbee, Chairman of the Council of Economic Advisors under President Obama.

The humor of Breit and Elzinga shines through in their light satire of academic politics and foibles.

We meet the hard-charging Trustee Annelle Cubbage – heir to a Texas ranching fortune – who wants the best that money can buy. Cubbage wants what she wants, when she wants it. Cubbage creates the “Cubbage Visiting Nobel Professorship” that brings the Nobel Laureate Spearman to Monte Vista University.

The anxious scholar Jennifer Kim – untenured – hesitates awestruck in the face of Spearman’s awesome reputation.

Meanwhile, the art professor Michael Cavanaugh resents the high pay of his economist colleagues at Monte Vista. By his view, they lack appreciation of art for art’s sake.

Visiting artist-in-residence and painting genius Tristan Wheeler cuts a romantic swath through the hearts of Monte Vista scholars – including some professors’ wives – before his mysterious death.

Spearman observes – like a careful anthropologist of the academic world – how the seating arrangement at the Monte Vista University President’s dinner establishes the relative ranking of dinner invitees.

Elzinga and Breit clearly met all of these characters on their real life campuses during their academic careers.

San Antonio readers will appreciate the economic explanation of the cost of the Spurs’ stadium, as well as financial theories on the funding of the fictional “Travis Museum,” modeled after the SAMA.

Spearman solves the murder through an epiphany in the midst of an economics lecture at Monte Vista University, applying economic analysis to intuit the motive of the killer.

Those of you who – like me – prefer your financial and economic theories presented with a spoonful of sugar to help the medicine go down, will enjoy this murder mystery set in the Montevista neighborhood of San Antonio.

The three other Marshall Jevons economics mysteries featuring Henry Spearman are The Fatal Equilibrium, Murder at the Margin, and A Deadly Indifference.

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Please see related post, All Bankers Anonymous book reviews in one place!

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I founded Bankers Anonymous because, as a recovering banker, I believe that the gap between the financial world as I know it and the public discourse about finance is more than just a problem for a family trying to balance their checkbook, or politicians trying to score points over next year’s budget – it is a weakness of our civil society. For reals. It’s also really fun for me.

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