All Commentary
Friday, November 1, 1985

Book Review: Murder at the Margin by Marshall Jevons and Death on Demand by K. Hill and O. Dale

Murder at the Margin

by Marshall Jevons

168 pages • $6.95 paperback

Death on Demand

by K. Hill and O. Dale

(Thomas Horton and Daughters, 26662 South New Town Drive, Sun Lakes, Arizona 85224), 1978 and 1985 • 168 pages • $10.00 cloth

Economics, we are frequently informed, is the dismal science. Many economists, however, are anything but dismal people. Professors William Breit and Kenneth Elzinga, writing under the pseudonym of “Marshall Jevons,” and the author or authors of Death on Demand (the conjunction of “Hill and Dale” being too enchanting to be believed!), have not let their knowledge of economics dampen their delight in the classical “whodunit.” Both Murder at the Margin and Death on Demand present the reader with murderous deeds, tantalizing clues, assorted suspects, and “much-smarter-than-the-police” detectives.

Detectives, however, with a difference. Not for them the traditional tools of the detecting trade, let alone the contemporary wonders of the forensic scientist. Rather, Professor Henry Spearman and Professor Karl Teasdale, the respective heroes of Murder at the Margin and Death on Demand, bring the insights of economics to the solving of crime, thereby suggesting that Police Academies send their trainees to a seminar at FEE!

It must be conceded that neither volume displays the ingenuity of an Agatha Christie novel. Yet learning the identity of the murderer is but part of the charm of each book. Quite painless]y, the ordinary reader can learn of opportunity cost, property rights, the law of demand (“the most firmly entrenched principle in the whole fabric of economics”) and even the fallacies spawned by Lord Keynes (an avid follower of whom, Professor Joe Birnoff, comes off second best in exchanges with the detecting hero of Death on Demand) while relaxing with a good, old-fashioned “yarn.”

The literary purist might dismiss the volumes’ characters as fiat and describe much of the dialogue as contrived. The devotee of roman/tic tales might fervently hope that “Marshall Jevons” does not attempt to pen a torrid tale exploring the lot of two or more people having “interdependent utility functions” (which, Professor Henry Spearman assures his wife, is what “economists mean by love.”) Economists grimly determined to maintain the view that economics is a “dismal science” might sneer at the simple exposition of key economic concepts informing both volumes.

Well, so be it! People who take themselves too seriously bleach life of its color. The two volumes are fun to read, and the economic asides are amusing as well as informative. Take time off to read the books—and enjoy!

  • The Reverend Dr. John K. Williams has been a teacher and is a free-lance writer and lecturer in North Melbourne, Victoria, Australia. He was resident scholar at FEE from April to October of this year.