Henry Slesar (1927-2002) was a prolific short-story writer before turning his hand to novels, beginning with "The Grey Flannel Shroud," an effort that turned out to be as successful as his many other endeavors, receiving the Edgar Award for Best First Novel in 1960. Slesar was an experienced ad man, credited with being the brains behind McGraw-Hill's extremely popular "The Man in the Chair" advertising campaign, as well as coining the phrase "coffee break." Thus it's no surprise that advertising is at the heart of the plot in The Grey Flannel Shroud.
In the novel, Dave Robbins is a a handsome young account manager at a small Madison Avenue agency who is put in charge of the prestigious Burke Baby Food account. He'd only gotten the job due to a colleague's heart attack and now he finds himself fending off the unwelcome attentions of an influential client and the scorn of the head of the Burke empire. Things take a turn for the bizzare when people connected to the Burke Baby account begin to die in strange ways. Dave soon worries he's next, a suspicion given weight by a near-fatal push off a train platform and poisoned medication.
Aided by a reporter friend/drinking buddy and Dave's clever and gutsy girlfriend, Janey Hagerty, an art director at the agency, Dave tries to navigate his complicated love life and the promising Burke account career-booster, while trying to figure out why the boss's confidential files include an unexplained and large payment to the mysterious "A.G." And why being put in charge of the Burke account may end up being the very last thing he ever does.
The Grey Flannel Shroud isn't heavy on the sleuthing, but if you're a fan of Mad Men, you'll see a lot of the essence of that era in the advertising world in this novel. There's plenty of character development and also whimsy--such as the chapter headings, all of which are taken from famous advertising campaigns.