(Masterpieces of Fiction, Detective and Mystery Edition)

Margaret Truman’s inside knowledge of life in the corridors of power and privilege are evidenced in many of her books. Such familiarity gives her stories of misdeeds in high places crucial realism, at times making the reader wonder if her writing is indeed totally fiction. This is especially true in the age of investigative reporting, when disclosures of scandals among those in power are commonplace. Truman understands Washington and its players and how in their political lives, which can make for strange bedfellows, these powerful people can cut deals even—or especially—in the midst of mayhem. Truman’s distaste of chicanery and hypocrisy and moral dishonesty sounds genuine. Her strength lies in her attention to detail, especially about local landmarks and legends in Washington. She depicts these with precision, providing her readers with a sense of space that many recognize. For instance, in Murder in the White House, to guarantee authenticity, Truman scrutinized the floor plans of the White House where she had spent seven years of her life. Such attention to detail, however, has also been criticized as overkill. Some critics have wondered why it is necessary to describe so many meals and drinks at specific restaurants and bars visited by some of the characters in her novels when these details are irrelevant to the story line.

The plots engaging Truman’s characters are often complicated and at times fast-moving. In this way, Truman’s style is reminiscent of that of Agatha Christie. There are usually false leads pointing to the wrong suspect, and the issue is often confused among the usually large cast of characters. Although Truman’s nonfictional biographies are generally considered by her critics to be graceful, simple, warm, genuine, and modest, suggesting an author from middle America barely affected by the rest of the world, some of her writing in the mystery novels has been characterized as lacking polish. She views the political leaders, bureaucrats, diplomats, and others in high places with a cynical eye, and this, together with her emphasis on authenticity, may redeem any stylistic shortcomings she may have.

Murder in the White House

Murder in the White House, the initial novel in Truman’s Capital Crimes series, was financially successful and has more than a million copies in print. The story, set in Truman’s onetime home, is about the murder of Lansard Blaine, the corrupt secretary of state who is found strangled to death in the family quarters of the White House....

(The entire section is 1043 words.)