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.
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.