Death Before Bedtime. Edgar Box. New York: Dutton, 1953.
|In addition to achieving success under his own name, in the early 1950s Gore Vidal published three satiric mysteries under a pseudonym. This work, the second of the Edgar Box novels, features Senator Leander Rhodes, chair of the fictitious Senate Spoils and Patronage Committee. Just as he is preparing to announce his presidential candidacy, Rhodes meets an untimely end via an exploding log in the fireplace of his stately home. Under the guiding hand of Vidal/Box, Peter Sargeant II, a public relations man from New York, sets out to identify the culprit.
The Gilded Age: A Tale of To-day. Mark Twain and Charles Dudley Warner. Hartford, CT: American Publishing Co., 1873.
|Mark Twain’s first novel, and the only one he wrote with a collaborator, details a time of corruption when crooked land speculators and bankers and dishonest politicians took advantage of the nation’s post–Civil War optimism. Partly inspired by the time Twain spent as personal secretary to Nevada Senator William Stewart, much of the novel focuses on the efforts of Senator Abner Dilworthy, who was modeled on real-life Senator Samuel Pomeroy of Kansas, to win approval of an unsavory bill that would benefit him and his friends.
Juneteenth. Ralph Ellison; edited by John F. Callahan. New York: Random House, 1999.
|Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man is generally considered one of the most important and influential novels of the 20th century; sadly, it was the only novel published during the author’s lifetime. Following his death, Ellison’s widow asked the author’s literary executor to work with thousands of pages of drafts and notes for what was intended to be a second novel. Juneteenth is the result of these efforts. In it, a shooting on the Senate floor leads to a deathbed conversation between a racist senator and the African American minister who helped raise him.
One Woman Lost. Abigail McCarthy and Jane Gray Muskie. New York: Atheneum, 1986.
|It seems apt that the spouses of Senators Eugene McCarthy of Minnesota and Edmund Muskie of Maine would write a novel featuring Celia Mann, a Senate wife—although Ms. Mann’s life is presumably much more dramatic than those of her authors. When Senator Mann is elected vice president, his wife’s anti-war activities and unwitting discovery of high-level corruption get her into trouble with the wrong people, leading to such melodrama as Celia being drugged, hospitalized against her will, and isolated from those who might believe her story. Abigail McCarthy has said that Celia Mann was loosely inspired by Martha Mitchell, the wife of former Attorney General John Mitchell.
Protect and Defend. Richard North Patterson. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2001.
|Like Allen Drury’s Advise and Consent, this novel examines a presidential nomination and subsequent attempt to win confirmation in the Senate. But unlike in Drury’s book, where women appear primarily as spouses or hostesses, Richard North Patterson puts a woman at the center of his tale when President Kerry Kilcannon nominates Caroline Masters to be chief justice of the United States. In bringing to life the contemporary world of politics, Patterson conducted extensive research, interviewing a host of prominent figures including Presidents George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton, current and former senators, judges, cabinet members, and public policy wonks.
The Senator from Slaughter County. Harry M. Caudill. Boston: Little, Brown, 1973.
|The title character, Thomas Jefferson (Doc) Bonham, does eventually make his way to Washington, but Bonham’s Senate service is hardly the focus of this novel. Rather, the author—a lawyer, historian, professor, and member of the Kentucky state legislature whose nonfiction writing helped inspire President Lyndon Johnson’s War on Poverty—chronicles life in the Appalachian mountains, which he considered “the least understood and most maligned part of America.” In Doc Bonham we see a quintessential political boss, whose early defeat as a reform candidate causes him to seek political power from the wealthy rather than from the voters.
The Senator. Drew Pearson. New York: Doubleday, 1968.
|For nearly forty years Drew Pearson wrote “Washington Merry-Go-Round,” the most widely read political column in the United States, appearing in more than 600 newspapers. He feuded with members of Congress, was denounced by Presidents Franklin Roosevelt and Harry Truman, and had a violent encounter with Senator Joseph McCarthy. In his first attempt at fiction, Pearson tells the tale of Senator Benjamin Bow Hannaford, a self-made millionaire from an unidentified Southwestern state. Despite or perhaps because of the author’s notoriety, the book was not well received; the New York Times called it “a leaden flight of fancy.”
The Capitol Hill in Fiction bibliography lists more novels about the Senate, House, and Capitol Hill.