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 Capitol Hill in Fiction
 
Detective Stories
The Glass Key. Dashiell Hammett. New York: A.A. Knopf, 1931.
Ned Beaumont, the protagonist of this novel, isn’t a detective at all, but rather a gambler and a “hanger-on” for a corrupt ward boss. Nevertheless, when Beaumont discovers the body of a senator’s son, he becomes involved in investigating the crime—although it’s unclear whether Beaumont wants to identify the murderer or protect his own mentor. Dashiell Hammett, the master of hard-boiled detective fiction, considered this novel his personal favorite, while the New York Times wrote that it combined “the tradition of Sherlock Holmes with the style of Ernest Hemingway.”
Jack and Jill. James Patterson. Boston: Little, Brown, 1996.
A controversial senator is shot at his Georgetown apartment, the first of a string of celebrity and political murders. Meanwhile, another series of deaths strikes fear in a neighborhood far removed from the seat of power. These killings in such different worlds would seem unconnected, but Detective Alex Cross suspects otherwise. The prolific James Patterson is the author of more than forty books, including approximately a dozen featuring Dr. Cross, a Washington, D.C., homicide investigator and psychiatrist.
The Lost Symbol. Dan Brown. New York: Doubleday, 2009.
As the story opens, Harvard symbologist Robert Langdon is summoned unexpectedly to deliver an evening lecture in the U.S. Capitol building. Within minutes of his arrival, however, the night takes a bizarre turn. A disturbing object—artfully encoded with five symbols—is discovered in the Capitol. Langdon recognizes the object as an ancient invitation . . . one meant to usher its recipient into a long-lost world of esoteric wisdom. When Langdon's beloved mentor, Peter Solomon, is brutally kidnapped, Langdon realizes his only hope of saving Peter is to accept this mystical invitation and follow wherever it leads him.
Murder in the Senate. Geoffrey Coffin. New York: Dodge Publishing Co., 1935.
F. Van Wyck Mason, a polo-playing Harvard grad who served in both world wars, wrote nearly 60 books, primarily historical fiction and spy stories. But he also penned two murder mysteries under the apt pseudonym of “Geoffrey Coffin.” In this novel featuring “demagogues, fiery fanatics, self-seekers, and traitors,” Justice Department Inspector Scott Stuart must solve four murders to rescue the country from extremist factions at both ends of the political spectrum.
 
Historical Fiction
Hollywood: A Novel of America in the 1920s. Gore Vidal. New York: Random House, 1990.
Between 1967 and 2000 Gore Vidal published seven historical novels that tell America’s story from the Revolutionary War to the end of the 20th century. In these books, which are often referred to as the American Chronicles, historical figures such as Aaron Burr, Ulysses S. Grant, Alexander Hamilton, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, and Martin Van Buren interact with Vidal’s fictional characters. In Hollywood, he draws upon the worlds of politics and show business to assemble a cast that includes Woodrow Wilson, Warren G. Harding, William Randolph Hearst, Charlie Chaplin, Douglas Fairbanks, and Senator Henry Cabot Lodge. Also making an appearance is Senator Thomas Pryor Gore of Oklahoma, the author’s grandfather. During his youth, Vidal lived with his grandfather in Washington, D.C., spending hours reading the Congressional Record to the senator, who was blind.
The Redhunter: A Novel Based on the Life of Senator Joe McCarthy. William F. Buckley. Boston: Little, Brown, 1999.
Historical figures such as Presidents Harry Truman and Dwight Eisenhower, FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover, and Secretary of State Dean Acheson join Senator Joe McCarthy and a fictional cast of characters in this recreation of the early 1950s, when fear of communism dominated the national consciousness. Using the perspective of an idealistic speechwriter looking back at his tenure with McCarthy forty years later, William F. Buckley defies conventional wisdom by presenting the senator as a sympathetic figure. Yet, he tempers this portrait by depicting McCarthy as inadvertently undermining the anti-communist cause that he promoted.
Two Moons. Thomas Mallon. New York: Pantheon Books, 2000.
Roscoe Conkling, who represented New York in the U.S. Senate from 1867 to 1881, controlled a vast patronage machine and was contemptuous of efforts at civil service reform. He seems unlikely to appear in a romantic novel but does just that in this story of Cynthia May, a Civil War widow who lands a job at the U.S. Naval Observatory, and Hugh Allison, an astronomer. Set in 1877, the year the moons of Mars were discovered, the novel includes other real-life figures as Blanche Kelso Bruce, the first African American to serve a full term in the Senate. Thomas Mallon has also written about the Senate in some of his other historical novels; his most recent work, Fellow Travelers, focuses on the McCarthy era.
Washington, D.C.. Gore Vidal. New York: Little, Brown and Company, 1967.
John Kenneth Galbraith notes that in Gore Vidal’s Washington, D.C., “there are no tedious meetings, no long reports or memoranda; and while the story centers on Capitol Hill, it is largely unmarred by committee hearings, hassles over legislation, or even speeches.” The story traces the fortunes of James Burden Day, a powerful senator who is eyeing the presidency; Clay Overbury, a pragmatic young congressional aide with political aspirations of his own; and Blaise Sanford, a ruthless newspaper tycoon who understands the importance of money and image in modern politics. With characteristic wit and insight, this book is considered Vidal's ultimate comment on how the American political system degrades those who participate in it.
 
Roman à Clef
Advise and Consent. Allen Drury. Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1959.
Perhaps the most well-known novel written about the Senate, this Pulitzer Prize winner reflects the insights that Allen Drury gained while covering the chamber as a reporter for United Press International. Centered around the confirmation battle over a controversial nominee for secretary of state, the book inspired nationwide speculation over which real-life senators may have served as models for Drury’s characters. This guessing game began again when a movie version—using real senators, staff, and reporters as extras—premiered in 1962. Drury later wrote five sequels to Advise and Consent as well as several other novels focused on the Senate.
Capitol Hell. Jayne Jones and Alicia Long. Edina, MN: Beaver's Pond Press, 2012.
Capitol Hell centers on Allison, a recent college graduate itching to work on the Hill. She lands a job as a scheduler to the newly elected Senator Anders McDermott III of South Dakota and spends the bulk of the book navigating Washington and the Hill, juggling outlandish demands from her boss and condescension from coworkers. A friendly legislative aide, Janet, helps her avoid major pitfalls--though Janet has more than a few scrapes of her own.
Democracy: An American Novel. Henry Adams. New York: Henry Holt and Co., 1993.
Democracy was published anonymously on April Fools Day, 1880, and it was not until thirty-five years later that the author was confirmed to be Henry Adams, great-grandson of President John Adams and grandson of President John Quincy Adams. Adams was dismayed by the rise of a new class of politicians and what he saw as a culture of corruption in government. Fortunately for readers, he channeled his disenchantment into this tale of Mrs. Lightfoot Lee, a young socialite widow who decides to winter in Washington to see how her government works. She soon encounters the “dreadfully senatorial” Silas P. Ratcliffe, a powerful, corrupt, and compelling figure modeled on James G. Blaine, a real-life senator, speaker of the House, and presidential candidate detested by Adams.
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.
 
Romance
Sammy's Hill. Kristin Gore. New York: Miramax Books, 2004.
Kristin Gore, the daughter and granddaughter of U.S. senators, combined experience gained as a television comedy writer with her D.C. background to produce a lighthearted tale of romance and public policy. Samantha “Sammy” Joyce is a twenty-six-year-old health-care analyst for an Ohio senator running for vice president. Quirky and idealistic, Sammy wants her boss to be elected and hopes to find true love. But the path to achieving these wishes is not smooth as Sammy wrestles with political complications, romantic entanglements, and her own accident-prone nature. Gore revisits many of these characters in a sequel, Sammy’s House.
The Senator's Wife. Sue Miller. New York: Vintage Books, 2009.
Meri is newly married, pregnant, and standing on the cusp of her life as a wife and mother, recognizing with some terror the gap between reality and expectation. Delia —wife of the two-term liberal Senator Tom Naughton—is Meri’s new neighbor in the adjacent New England town house. Tom’s chronic infidelity has been an open secret in Washington circles, but despite the complexity of their relationship, the bond between them remains strong. Soon Delia and Meri find themselves leading strangely parallel lives as they both reckon with the contours and mysteries of marriage: one refined and abraded by years of complicated intimacy, the other barely begun.
Two Moons. Thomas Mallon. New York: Pantheon Books, 2000.
Roscoe Conkling, who represented New York in the U.S. Senate from 1867 to 1881, controlled a vast patronage machine and was contemptuous of efforts at civil service reform. He seems unlikely to appear in a romantic novel but does just that in this story of Cynthia May, a Civil War widow who lands a job at the U.S. Naval Observatory, and Hugh Allison, an astronomer. Set in 1877, the year the moons of Mars were discovered, the novel includes other real-life figures as Blanche Kelso Bruce, the first African American to serve a full term in the Senate. Thomas Mallon has also written about the Senate in some of his other historical novels; his most recent work, Fellow Travelers, focuses on the McCarthy era.
 
Satire
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.
Senator Solomon Spiffledink. Louis Ludlow. Washington, DC: Pioneer Book Co., 1927.
The author, a Washington correspondent for Indiana and Ohio newspapers, said that his satirical novel "shows Congress at its worst. That is exactly what it is intended to do." But Louis Ludlow cautioned his readers not to judge Congress solely on his vain, boastful, hypocritical title character and spoke of his plans to offer a more positive portrait in a companion volume, Senator John Law, featuring "a bold and fearless public servant, who stands four-square with the world." However, Ludlow never published this sequel. Instead, he was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives, where he served for twenty years.
 
Scandal
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.”
 
Senators and Their Families as Authors
Capitol Offense. Barbara Mikulski and Marylouise Oates. New York: Dutton, 1996.
Although Barbara Mikulski has represented Maryland in the U.S. Senate since 1987, she adopts a newcomer’s viewpoint in her debut novel by creating Eleanor “Norie” Gorzack of Pennsylvania, a former nurse and state public health official who’s just been appointed to a Senate seat. But Norie is also the wife of a Marine who has been missing in action in Vietnam for more than two decades, which puts her in the sights of someone willing to kill to keep a secret concerning the fate of missing soldiers. Senator Mikulski revisits Senator Gorzack in a second novel, Capitol Venture.
Murder in the Senate. William S. Cohen and Thomas B. Allen. New York: Nan A. Talese, 1993.
William Cohen, who served in the Senate for eighteen years and subsequently spent four years as Secretary of Defense, brings an insider’s perspective to this tale of death and legislative maneuvering. Setting their story against a backdrop of an effort to grant statehood to the District of Columbia, the authors combine killings in unlikely places (the Senate subway, the visitor’s gallery of the Senate Chamber) with behind-the-scenes details of the mechanical and architectural workings of the Capitol.
Murder on Capitol Hill. Margaret Truman. New York: Arbor House, 1981.
Before he served as vice president and president, Harry S. Truman represented Missouri in the Senate for ten years. Perhaps that’s why the president’s daughter Margaret focused on the Senate in her second novel (Murder in the White House was the first). In this whodunit, a reception honoring Majority Leader Cale Caldwell ends with the guest of honor dead from an ice pick wound. Asked by the senator’s widow to serve as counsel to a Senate committee investigating the murder, lawyer Lydia James confronts a varied group of suspects including Caldwell family members, media figures, and a fellow senator.
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.
Sammy's Hill. Kristin Gore. New York: Miramax Books, 2004.
Kristin Gore, the daughter and granddaughter of U.S. senators, combined experience gained as a television comedy writer with her D.C. background to produce a lighthearted tale of romance and public policy. Samantha “Sammy” Joyce is a twenty-six-year-old health-care analyst for an Ohio senator running for vice president. Quirky and idealistic, Sammy wants her boss to be elected and hopes to find true love. But the path to achieving these wishes is not smooth as Sammy wrestles with political complications, romantic entanglements, and her own accident-prone nature. Gore revisits many of these characters in a sequel, Sammy’s House.
A Time to Run. Barbara Boxer with Marie-Rose Hayes. San Francisco: Chronicle Books, 2005.
At the start of this novel, Senator Ellen Fischer of California, who opposes a Supreme Court nomination, grapples with the propriety of using damaging information about the nominee provided by journalist Greg Hunter. The focus then shifts to 1970s-era Berkeley, where we meet Ellen, Greg, and Ellen’s future husband, Josh, during their university days. Past and present eventually collide in current-day Washington, D.C., with California Senator Barbara Boxer seasoning her plot with knowing references to Senate practices and other bits of local color. Senator Ellen Fischer's adventures continue in Blind Trust, Senator Boxer's 2009 follow-up novel.
 
Thrillers
House Rules. Mike Lawson. New York: Grove Press, 2008.
At the start of Mike Lawson's snappy third thriller starring congressional snoop Joe DeMarco, a series of three failed attempts by Muslim terrorists to attack Washington, D.C.—one by plane, one by car, one by lone suicide bomber—causes nationwide panic. DeMarco wades into the mess when his boss, House Speaker John Mahoney, asks him to check out the possibility that the terrorist onslaught may have been more homegrown than it appears. Quickly appearing on DeMarco's radar is a suspicious, high-profile piece of anti-Islamic legislation, pushed by an amibitious junior senator, that's on the fast track for approval.
Murder in the Senate. William S. Cohen and Thomas B. Allen. New York: Nan A. Talese, 1993.
William Cohen, who served in the Senate for eighteen years and subsequently spent four years as secretary of defense, brings an insider’s perspective to this tale of death and legislative maneuvering. Setting their story against a backdrop of an effort to grant statehood to the District of Columbia, the authors combine killings in unlikely places (the Senate subway, the visitor’s gallery of the Senate Chamber) with behind-the-scenes details of the mechanical and architectural workings of the Capitol.
Murder on Capitol Hill. Margaret Truman. New York: Arbor House, 1981.
Before he served as vice president and president, Harry S. Truman represented Missouri in the Senate for ten years. Perhaps that’s why the president’s daughter Margaret focused on the Senate in her second novel (Murder in the White House was the first). In this whodunit, a reception honoring Majority Leader Cale Caldwell ends with the guest of honor dead from an ice pick wound. Asked by the senator’s widow to serve as counsel to a Senate committee investigating the murder, lawyer Lydia James confronts a varied group of suspects including Caldwell family members, media figures, and a fellow senator.
The Zero Game. Brad Meltzer. New York: Warner Books, 2004.
Congressional staff members take center stage in this imaginative thriller. Senate staffer Harris Sandler and his House counterpart Matthew Mercer are among the participants in a seemingly innocuous game in which bets are placed on the outcome of obscure pieces of legislation. But things take a sinister turn, leading to an escalating series of crises in settings that range from the tunnels beneath the Capitol to an abandoned gold mine in South Dakota.