Books by Margaret Truman

MARGARET TRUMAN has won faithful readers with her works of biography and fiction, particularly her ongoing series of Capital Crimes mysteries. Her novels let us into the corridors of power and privilege, and poverty and pageantry, in the nation’s capital.

MONUMENT TO MURDER by Margaret Truman
Released: July 1, 2011

"Another is that the present volume, as so many earlier entries in this series were rumored to have been, is actually the work of a surviving ghostwriter whose talents might shine forth more brightly if they weren't tethered to Annabel, Mac and the Washington social register."
Veteran Washington insider Truman (1924-2008) rises from the grave—or does she?—for another round of murder, espionage and sightseeing. Read full book review >
MURDER AT THE OPERA by Margaret Truman
Released: Nov. 21, 2006

"The tidbits of opera lore are more interesting and less intrusive than the lists of anti-terrorist agencies and policies, which read as if they were downloaded from the Web."
A production of Tosca at the Kennedy Center is nearly upstaged by real-life murder in the 22nd in Truman's Capital Crimes series (Murder at the Washington Tribune, 2005, etc.). Read full book review >
Released: Oct. 25, 2005

"The mystery itself is slight, with sparse clues, little doubt of the killer's identity and a gaping loose end that would get a less experienced author tossed back to the slush pile."
For the first time in her long-running Capital Crimes franchise (Murder at Ford's Theater, 2002, etc.), Truman spins her murderous web around a truly fictional center. Read full book review >
Released: Nov. 19, 2002

"Even so, this tightly focused detective yarn, shorn of Truman's uncomfortable fascination with international intrigue (Murder in Havana, 2001, etc.), gives Mac his best outing in years."
Ford's Theatre, where President Lincoln was assassinated on April 14, 1865, has operated as a working theater ever since its reopening in 1965—as Truman whispers in one of her hundreds of historical asides—but the real drama on the eve of the latest Ford's Festival opening is outside in Baptist Alley, where senatorial intern Nadia Zarinski is beaten to death. The murder is fraught with diplomatic problems. The alluring young victim was no better than she should have been. The boss to whom persistent rumors linked her romantically, Sen. Bruce Lerner, is the ex-husband of Clarise Emerson, the Ford producing director who's just been nominated to head the National Endowment for the Arts. And when salt-and-pepper Metro Police detectives Rick Klayman and Mo Johnson start asking questions about Nadia, American University students link her to Lerner's son Jeremiah, whose shoe left a distinctive footprint back in Baptist Alley. Even though Clarise leans on her old friend, Prof. Mackensie Smith, to assist in Jerry's defense, the case looks hopeless because the accused acts so guilty, lying about his relationship with Nadia and running away from his estranged father's custody. Truman provides such a strong A-list of suspects—with a featured role for a dotty old British ham who seems to be channeling John Wilkes Booth—that it's a real disappointment to see the killer emerge from the shadows of the B-list. Read full book review >
MURDER IN HAVANA by Margaret Truman
Released: Aug. 7, 2001

It may be only 90 miles from Miami to Havana, but Max Pauling, retired from the CIA to become a pilot and flight instructor, has the feeling he's traveling years into the past when he agrees to make the flight, ostensibly in order to do a routine delivery, but actually to find out whether America's own BTK Industries is using the German firm of Strauss-Lochner Resources as a front for its acquisition of revolutionary cancer therapies under development alongside the island's sugar and tobacco. Hooking up with glamorous contact Celia Sardiña, Max (Murder in Foggy Bottom, 2000) soon finds that the scheme masterminded by ex-Senator Price McCullough, BTK's wily chief, is only the tip of the cigar. Eons seem to pass, though, before inoffensive Strauss-Lochner liaison Kurt Grünewald becomes the casualty who justifies Truman's title. And it's even longer before Max, shortly after foiling an attempt on Fidel Castro's life during the president's birthday festivities, is set up as the fall guy in another killing and has to take it on the lam, his old Agency colleagues no more trustworthy allies than the Policía National de la Revolución in his frantic quest to get off the island and cover those magical 90 miles. Read full book review >
Released: July 1, 1998

Lg. Prt. 0-375-70294-6 As if it weren't already notorious enough for the break-in in Room 723 (now a one-room museum, as Truman announces in one of her atypically few insider notes), Washington's Watergate Hotel has become a kill zone from top (a researcher pushed from the roof gardens) to bottom (a Mexican union organizer gunned down in the basement garage). The link between the two killings is The Mexico Initiative, a nationalist lobby with close ties to the revolutionaries bent on overthrowing the PRI, Mexico's long-ensconced ruling party. Since it's important for US Vice President Joseph Aprile to make sure he's on the right side of the issue, he sends his old friend, crime-solving law prof Mackensie Smith (Murder in the House, 1997, etc.), south of the border to monitor the upcoming elections, and incidentally to serve as his unofficial envoy, perhaps even to meet with revolutionary leader Carlos Unzaga. It's a ticklish assignment, one that takes both Mac and his creator well out of their comfort zones. Beltway veteran Truman spices the tale with irrelevant reminiscences of power-broker Elfie Dorrance's four late husbands and juicier hints of scandals close to home, but the Mexican intrigue is marked by political analysis no deeper than you'd get from the next tourist. Read full book review >
MURDER IN THE HOUSE by Margaret Truman
Released: July 1, 1997

After her offbeat foray into international art fraud (Murder at the National Gallery, 1996), D.C. doyenne Truman returns to the scene of one of her earliest crimes—Capitol Hill—in this tangled tale of eight-term Congressman Paul Latham, whose nomination as Secretary of State runs into trouble on the night before his confirmation hearings, when he's gunned down in Statuary Hall, the former chamber of the House of Representatives. The Washington gossip mill doesn't buy the killer's first cover story (suicide), but it snaps up the second: a sex scandal based on longtime Latham appointments secretary Marge Edwards's allegations of harassment—allegations that become shriekingly persistent when Marge disappears before she can confirm or deny the story. But the real perps, as law prof Mac Smith's CIA contacts tell him in soliciting his help, are a high-handed millionaire and the ring of improbable Russian da-men he's using as insiders to float trade deals that'll leave him even richer and more powerful, and as enforcers to wipe out anybody who gets in the way. It all boils over when Latham's daughter Molly, a new House page, is taken hostage in her late father's office and frog-marched down to a climax in a ``huge, ornate chamber, 139 feet long and 93 feet wide,'' in a shoot-out that miraculously doesn't manage to wing any of the tour guides that must be lurking only a few yards away. Mac doesn't get off as lightly as the tour guides, which seems unfair, considering that neither he nor his wife Annabel does any detection. Neither does anybody else. Read full book review >
Released: July 1, 1996

Caravaggio expert Luther Mason can hardly contain his excitement when he gets a call from aging Mafia don Luigi Sensi offering to sell him the Grottesca, a never-seen masterpiece that fell off a truck. All Washington is abuzz with the news that Mason's using the new canvas, its provenance suitably whitewashed for public consumption, to anchor his Caravaggio exhibit. But Mason has even bigger news up his sleeve: He plans to commission two copies of the painting from alcoholic forger Jacques Saison, sell one to unscrupulous San Francisco collector Franco del Brasco, return the other to the Italian authorities, and keep the original Grottesca for himself. It's a mad, intricate plan, quite unlike anything Truman (Murder on the Potomac, 1994, etc.) has presented before, and it's made considerably more heartrending, though hardly more cogent or plausible, by her closeups of Mason's unhappy relationships with his demanding mother, his heartless ex-wife, and his narcissistic son. Here's a man who's obviously riding for a fall, and when he finally becomes the eponymous corpse (the third of five involved in the Caravaggio fraud), the story rather runs out of steam, leaving nothing but wife-and-husband lawyers Annabel and Mackensie Smith to track down the lesser fry still trying to promote a dishonest dollar from Mason's legacy. The intricate, unconvincing caper makes you wonder whether the tale itself could be a forgery, though the ranks upon ranks of obscure eminences and the general absence of mystery mark it as genuine. Read full book review >
FIRST LADIES by Margaret Truman
Released: Oct. 1, 1995

Gossipy and judgmental thumbnail sketches of First Ladiesnot every one, but enough of them to wear the topic out entirely. Presidential daughter, biographer, and novelist Truman (Murder on the Potomac, 1994, etc.) is unabashedly opinionated about this famous job, which, one senses from this book, ought to be: Protect your man from the big, bad world; comfort him when you cannot; and don't cost him any votes. The women themselves come second. As Truman says, ``While I am heartily in favor of women achieving maximum opportunities and power, I doubt that the First Lady is the ideal symbolic vehicle for this ascent.'' Not surprisingly, Nancy Reagan, who exemplifies the sort of loving ``protector'' Truman admires, comes in for gentler handling than does Eleanor Roosevelt, whose accomplishments, we are told, are to be weighed against her ``tragic limitations'' as a wife. Although Truman can be effusive in her praise (she calls Lady Bird Johnson the ``almost perfect First Lady''), she's not one to miss a good opportunity for sniping at her subjects, as when she serves up examples of Jacqueline Kennedy's ``visceral repugnance for average Americans.'' One might almost take Truman for anti- elitist, did she not also say of Dolley Madison, the daughter of an unsuccessful businessman and a boardinghouse keeper, that ``there is nothing in her past to account for her combination of good taste and impeccable hospitality.'' Still, inclined to find something good in each of these women, Truman might have been stumped to find a real loser had not her father, Harry S Truman, judged Warren Harding the worst president. And so Florence Harding turns out to be a ``mean-spirited'' woman with a ``dÇclassÇ style, whining voice, and overbearing manner.'' Well-known lives revisited from a perspective that is more convincingly insider than insightful. (b&w photos, not seen) Read full book review >
MURDER ON THE POTOMAC by Margaret Truman
Released: June 1, 1994

Whether Truman's mirroring recent Washington scandals or just running out of landmark sites in which to dump bodies, her latest corpse is Pauline Juris, personal assistant and bagwoman to Wendell Tierney, of Tierney Development and the National Building Museum board, who is found floating in the relatively obscure current off Roosevelt Island, home of the Theodore Roosevelt memorial. So there's less tourist lore than usual, and more workaday plotting, as Tierney and his family—actress-daughter Suzanne, heir-apparent Chip, adopted son Sun Ben Cheong—take turns incriminating themselves. (Did Tierney write those typed love letters to Pauline? Was Chip having an affair with her? Was she holding the purse strings of the money Suzanne hoped to get to launch her one-woman show in New York? Did she know about Sun Ben's money-laundering?) Mackensie Smith (Murder at the Pentagon, 1992, etc.), dragged into the case over his wife, Annabel's, objections and his own misgivings about adoring Det. Darcy Eikenberg, his former student, gets the answers, honors his friendships, and doesn't defile his marital bed. Writing of an amateur troupe specializing in historic DC murders, Truman says that their ``staged reenactments, despite patches of bad acting, were historically accurate and drew large audiences.'' Not a bad review of her own long-running series, and this entry in particular. Read full book review >
Released: May 1, 1992

The latest entry in Truman's uneven but immensely popular series of D.C. mysteries starts with an unusually strong situation: Air Force J.D./chopper pilot Major Margit Falk is assigned over her protests to defend Sgt. Robert Cobol on a charge of killing weapons-researcher Dr. Richard Joycelyn. Even as Margit, with the help of her old mentor Mackensie Smith, reluctantly digs into allegations of a homosexual relationship between the two, we already know, from a series of dire hints, that the murder was really triggered by an unnamed Middle Eastern tyrant's acquisition of a nuclear bomb. Once Cobol's found dead in his cell, the only question left is how high the coverup reaches. The anemic mystery is partly redeemed by an engaging heroine and the usual inside dope about how many miles of telephone cable are inside the Pentagon. (Literary Guild Split Dual Selection for July) Read full book review >