Capital Crimes.

Author:Smith, Patrick
Position:The Room and the Chair - The Inside Ring - Executive Privilege - Book review

What is a better place to set a crime story than Washington, D.C.? There, the jokes write themselves.

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Whether in Capitol Hill's hallowed halls or just inside the Beltway, an area once known as the "Murder Capital of the World" ("Outside of the killings, Washington has one of the lowest crime rates in the country," embattled former mayor Marion Barry is once purported to have said), the settings are historically significant, picturesque, and deadly.

But capital crime encompasses much more than just the usual suspects. Many of us immediately think of James Patterson (the Alex Cross series); Brad Meltzer (The Tenth Justice [1998], The First Council [2001], The Book of Fate [2006]); David Baldacci (Absolute Power [1996], The Simple Truth [1999], The Camel Club [2005]); and Dan Brown (The Lost Symbol [2009]). These writers have certainly put their stamp on the city. Whether in stand-alone novels or in series ranging from Margaret Truman's police procedurals set in and around famous landmarks or in the gritty, often racially charged stories far removed from the glitz and glamour of government rainmakers in the novels of first-rank crime writer George Pelecanos, the city exerts a magnetic attraction on writers and readers alike.

As for the tales of political intrigue that make Washington, D.C., a target-rich environment for great nonfiction? Well, you couldn't make this stuff up.

FICTION

The Room and the Chair (2010)

By Lorraine Adams

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Novelist, critic, and Pulitzer Prize--winning Washington Post journalist Lorraine Adams explored terrorism and the experience of Algerian immigrants to the United States in her award-winning debut novel, Harbor (2004). The Room and the Chair offers frightening and all-too-real insight into our present. If the inner workings of Washington and the practice of journalism within the nation's capital appeal to you, don't miss this one. (**** May/June 2010)

THE STORY: When fighter pilot Mary Goodwin is ejected from a jet over the Potomac River after 9/11, she is badly injured, and the accident is quickly hushed up. But the story reaches the Washington Spectator, where the night editor and rookie reporter Vera Hastings suspects that the crash might have been part of a covert spy operation. Others, including Will Holmes, head of a secret intelligence program, are determined to conceal the truth. As the action moves from Washington to Afghanistan, Iraq, Dubai, and Iran, a disturbing tale of government secrecy and Washington-style journalism--always compelling, not always honest--emerges.

"The Room and Chair is a breed apart: a novel that combines the meticulous reportage of Bernstein and Woodward's All the President's Men (1974) with the spellbinding poetry and creepy political intrigue of Robert Penn Warren's All the King's Men (1946). ... Then, too, there is her vivisection of life inside the newsroom--'The Room'--of a Washington paper: nothing less than a minor miracle of social anthropology." KIRK DAVIS SWINEHART, CHICAGO TRIBUNE, 3/5/10

The Inside Ring (2005)

A Joe DeMarco Thriller

By Mike Lawson

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After an auspicious start, the Joe Demarco series numbers eight installments with the recent publication of House Odds (2013). Worth reading for the auxiliary characters alone--Lawson's Speaker of the House John Fitzgerald Mahoney, a delightfully corrupt and surprisingly moral Boston politician of the old stripe (readers, make your own inferences), anchors the books Throughout--Lawson's series should be far better known than it is. DeMarco, who starts out as a likable, flawed hero, only gets more complex in subsequent titles. Think Lee Child's Jack Reacher inside the Beltway.

THE STORY: When an assassination attempt on the president claims the lives of his best friend and a Secret Service agent, an intense manhunt immediately turns up a slam-dunk suspect. Things are more complicated than they seem, of course, and a far-reaching conspiracy involving the Secret Service takes shape when Andrew Banks, Secretary of Homeland Security, admits that he was warned of the attempt beforehand. Enter Joe DeMarco, a clientless Washington, D.C., lawyer with a past who works--off the books--at the behest of the Speaker of the House, a man no stranger to getting his way--even in the shark-infested waters of Capitol Hill. The...

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