When Clarence Sutherland, chief clerk of the Supreme Court, is found dead, Lt. Martin Teller of the DC police and Susanna Pinscher of the Justice Department are pulled together to find the killer.
It turns out that Sutherland had a lot of confidential information on important people, and any one of them could be responsible for his death. But one startling clue seems to implicate the high court itself: Sutherland was found slumped over in the chief justice’s chair. Did the clerk know something that the top judge, and perhaps even the president himself, didn’t want revealed? Teller and Pinscher intend to find out . . .
From the daughter of President Harry Truman, an expert at depicting the details of life inside the beltway, Murder in the Supreme Court provides an intriguing peek into the world of Washington’s powerful justice system.
“Truman’s hints as to the real state of Washington are terrifying if true.” —Chicago Sun-Times
“A dazzling series.” —The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
About the Author
After college, she pursued her interest and talent in singing and from the late 1940s into the early 1950s she performed around the world, as well as on radio and television shows. Her singing career received mixed reviews, but nonetheless was followed closely by the media in her day. Truman remained in the public eye when she went on to become one of the first women to be part of the then fledgling morning news and entertainment shows, paired with Mike Wallace on NBC’s show Monitor in 1955.
She began her writing career in 1956 with her first book, Souvenir, Margaret Truman's Own Story. The autobiography was followed by several works of nonfiction including books about her father, her mother, Bess Truman, and several books focusing on the history of the White House and its previous inhabitants, including former pets of White House families. In 1980, with the release of Murder in the White House, Truman began her foray into the world of fiction, which would continue for the rest of her life. Her Capital Crimes series remains popular with a whole new generation of readers who are intrigued by behind-the-scenes pictures of the political process.
A prolific writer in both the fiction and nonfiction genres, Truman has written a total of thirty-five books and is today a truly popular American writer. Margaret Truman died in 2008 at the age of 83.
Read an Excerpt
"Oyez! Oyez! Oyez! All persons having business before the Honorable, the Supreme Court of the United States, are admonished to draw near and give their attention, for the Court is now sitting. God save the United States and this Honorable Court."
As the marshal chanted the opening ritual, nine black-robed justices stepped through heavy burgundy drapes behind a winged Honduras mahogany bench and took their seats. Attorneys who would present the first set of oral arguments sat at a long counsel table in front of, and below, the bench. Before them were twenty ten-inch quill pens carefully crossed on writing pads, a tradition from the Court's earliest days. An older attorney wore a morning coat; the rest were in dark, vested business suits.
"Let's begin," said Jonathan Poulson, Chief Justice, who sat in the middle of the bench. Bald except for tufts of white hair around the lower perimeter of his head, wire spectacles perched low on an aquiline nose, a long slender index finger pressed against his cheek, he listened as attorneys seeking admission to the Court were introduced.
"Admission granted," Poulson said. The clerk administered the oath. "Welcome, ladies and gentlemen," Poulson said. "Let's get on with the first case, Nidel v. Illinois."
A young attorney walked to the podium, cranked it higher, arranged long yellow legal sheets on it. His hair was thick and dark, and he had a sallow, slightly pockmarked face. "Mr. Chief Justice, and may it please the Court," he said in a strong voice, "two years ago, in the spring, the plaintiff sought to seek an abortion in her home state of Illinois ..."
Poulson leaned back in his black leather chair and listened to the attorney's introductory remarks while looking out over the huge, majestic courtroom. It never failed to impress him, the dignity and beauty of it, walls and columns of white marble from Spain and Italy contrasting with carpet and drapes as red as blood. Directly in front of him, high on the west wall, was one of four thirty-six-foot marble Weinman friezes. Poulson absently identified each of the symbolic figures; the winged female figure of Divine Inspiration flanked by Wisdom and Truth. To the left stood the Powers of Good: Security, Harmony, Peace, Charity and Defense of Virtue. Evil was represented on the other side; Corruption, Slander, Deceit and Despotic Power.
The room was filled with spectators, as it usually was when a controversial issue was being argued. Those with special interest gathered in front of a gleaming brass rail. The press was in a designated section to the left. Behind the rail sat the general public. Every seat was occupied, and the line outside was long.
The Chief noticed a small boy looking up at the ceiling, a vast expanse of gold-leaf lotus blossoms, symbolizing Endurance, set against brightly lighted red and blue squares.
He returned his full attention to the attorney's words. He hadn't missed any of them despite his mental wandering. Years on the bench had honed that skill, first as an appellate judge in the Ninth Circuit, then with the U.S. Court of Claims until being nominated a little more than a year ago for Chief Justice by President Randolph Jorgens.
Jorgens, a conservative, had been swept into office on a nation's disenchantment with previous liberal, permissive administrations. He could have tapped an existing justice for the Chief's job but honored the tradition of not doing that for fear of upsetting the delicate balance that existed on the Court. Instead, he reached out to his old friend Jonathan Poulson, who, like the new president, espoused conservative ideology, a hard-nosed Constitutionalist, fiscally sound and overtly disdainful of changes that challenged time-proven American traditions.
The attorney was interrupted by the Court's only female justice, Marjorie Tilling-Masters, an attractive and brilliant woman who, besides bringing a moderate, reasoned philosophy to the bench, had been responsible, simply by virtue of being female, for changing the tradition of addressing justices as, "Mr. Justice Poulson," or "Mr. Justice Brown." Since her arrival, the Mr. had been dropped, although an occasional slip of the tongue still occurred.
The justice to Poulson's immediate right, Temple Conover, leaned close and said, "The attorney has a lisp."
Poulson smiled. As the oldest justice and the one with the most tenure on the Court, Conover took advantage of his seniority to display irreverence at times Poulson considered inappropriate. Conover had become a media character, irascible and argumentative, brilliant, foppish in his dress, flamboyant in his life-style. He'd recently married for the fourth time. His new wife was twenty-six; he was eighty-two. He was a devout liberal.
The justice to Poulson's left, Morgan Childs, leaned toward his microphone and said to the attorney, "Mr. Manecke, it's my understanding from your affidavits that the original appeal was based upon the refusal of the state to finance the plaintiff's abortion. That strikes me as vastly different from the argument you're presenting here today, that it is a woman's right to determine the fate of her own body."
The attorney looked up from his prepared statement and said, "Justice Childs, the issue is broader than simply one of fiscal decision making. That's why this case has reached this level. We're dealing with a basic issue of individual rights within a free society. To reduce it to ..."
Childs waved his hand and shook his head. "That's my point, Mr. Manecke. I simply wish to keep things straight. Either we're arguing a woman's rights or the balancing of a checkbook."
A few of the spectators in the audience chuckled. Chief Justice Poulson looked up, which ended the momentary mirth.
Childs pressed, "We're being called upon to decide a national issue, Mr. Manecke. It would help if we knew what that issue was."
The attorney tried to get back to his prepared statement but another justice asked a question.
Poulson turned to his chief clerk, Clarence Sutherland, who sat behind him, and asked, "What is the substantive issue here?"
Sutherland smiled and shrugged. "Sex, I suppose."
Poulson drew a deep breath and returned his attention to the attorney's comments. Clarence disappeared through the curtains, found a book he was looking for in a library housed behind the bench, returned and handed it to Poulson. "Page eleven, sir. It has relevance."
When the plaintiff's attorney had completed his hour, the older attorney in the morning coat stepped to the podium. He represented the state of Illinois. Poulson knew him well. They'd been classmates in law school.
"Mr. Chief Justice, and may it please the Court," he said, "I stand before you today as a representative of a confused and troubled American electorate. Concepts that have withstood the test of time are being rewritten by those with special, self-serving motives. The values that have provided the linchpin of the American dream, the fabric from which the American cloth has been woven, are being placed in deliberate jeopardy. In the case that has been brought here today ..."
Justice Marjorie Tilling-Masters picked a piece of lint from her black robe. A security guard politely asked a spectator to remove his arm from the brass rail as the ancient Justice Conover mumbled to no one in particular, "The point, get to the point."
Chief clerk Clarence Sutherland walked behind the justices and handed a note to another clerk, Laurie Rawls. She read it, looked up and pouted. The note said he couldn't keep their dinner date. He shrugged and was about to return to his chair when a sharp, clear report crackled through the heavy silence of the room.
"Get down!" the marshal shouted.
All nine justices, robes awry, got down beneath the bench. Spectators looked around, and fell to the floor. Armed guards wearing white shirts and black ties ran to the bench. Clarence Sutherland had dropped to his knees next to Laurie Rawls. They looked at each other in shock.
"Stay low," a guard yelled.
Clarence poked his head up above the bench and saw a security man walk into the courtroom carrying an unidentified object. He was smiling. "A lightbulb," he said in a loud voice. "Just a lightbulb that fell out of its socket."
"A lightbulb," Clarence said to Laurie as he helped her to her feet.
"It sounded like a gun," she said. "God, what a scare." She slumped in her chair and blew a strand of hair from her forehead.
Clarence leaned close to her ear. "Sorry about tonight but something came up."
"Who is it this time?"
"Come on ..."
"Have a nice night." Her words were formed of ice.
Order was restored in the room. The old attorney stepped to the podium, tugged on his formal coat, cleared his throat and said, "Mr. Chief Justice, and may it please the Court, as I was saying ..."CHAPTER 2
Jonathan Poulson sat in his chambers on Friday morning, three days after the lightbulb incident. "Where's Clarence?" he asked his other clerks.
"I don't know," one of them said. "Traffic, I suppose."
"Yes." Sutherland was often late, which always upset the Chief Justice. He believed in punctuality, felt those who didn't were attention-seeking bores.
A buzzer sounded at 9:25, five minutes before the Friday conference was to begin. Of all the rituals of the Court, the Friday conference meant the most to Poulson. Thousands of potential cases were presented to the Supreme Court each year under the concept of the Court granting a writ of certiorari, from the Latin certiorari volumus, meaning, "We wish to be informed." Most cases were dismissed by a clerk's written evaluation. Of those that survived a clerk's analysis, the Friday conference was crucial. Final decisions were made during it.
The nine justices gathered in a foyer off the main conference room where they engaged in the ceremonial act of helping each other on with their robes before shaking hands and entering the largest of four such conference rooms. Richly paneled in American quartered white oak, it contained a large conference table with a black leather inlay that was piled high with notebooks, memos and briefs. Poulson sat at the east end of the table, his customary place. Temple Conover, the senior associate justice, sat at the west end, again tradition. The junior associate justice, Morgan Childs, took his place nearest the door, where he would act as doorman and messenger, sending out for and receiving reference material.
"Good morning ladies and gentlemen," Poulson said. "The first matter we are to consider is ..."
At ten minutes before ten there was a knock at the door. Poulson looked at the junior justice and raised his eyebrows. It was unheard of for anyone to intrude on the sanctity of the Friday conference. Temple Conover summed up every one's feelings when he snapped, "Who the hell is that?"
"We'll see," Morgan Childs said.
The junior justice opened the door. Standing there was one of Conover's clerks, Laurie Rawls. "It had better be important," the Chief Justice said.
"It is, sir. It's ..." She began to cry.
"What is it?" Poulson said, standing and going to the door.
"It's awful —"
"What is awful?" Poulson said. The eyes of the other justices were now on her.
"He's ... oh, my God, he's dead ..."
"Who's dead?" Childs put in quickly.
"Yes ... he's been ..." And she broke down
and collapsed against Poulson's chest.
He held her for a moment, then released her and moved into the hall, followed by the others. "Where is he?"
"In the Court."
Poulson briskly led the group down a broad hallway. They passed through the Great Hall's vast expanse of Alabama marble and rows of monolithic columns, collective footsteps ricocheting off the hard floor, black robes flowing behind them. A security guard snapped to attention. He'd never seen all nine of them walking as a group through a public area before.
They passed through huge double doors leading into the courtroom. The doors closed behind them with a heavy sigh. They rose and looked toward the bench, then tentatively moved up one of two interior aisles. There, seated in the Chief Justice's chair, was Clarence Sutherland. His head was cocked to one side, which caused wavy blond hair to droop in that direction. He appeared to be smiling, although it was more of a grimace. He was dressed in the same slate gray suit Poulson remembered him as having worn the previous day, green paisley tie neatly knotted against his Adam's apple, pale blue lisle button-down shirt curving to the contour of his vest. The only thing unusual was his forehead. In the center of it was a small, crusted hole from which blood had erupted over his right eye and down to his upper lip, where the beginnings of a moustache had trapped it and kept it from flowing further.
"He's dead," Morgan Childs said, stepping closer and craning his neck to get a better look.
"Murdered," Temple Conover said.
"In the Supreme Court," Chief Justice Jonathan Poulson added, like a judgment.CHAPTER 3
Lieutenant Martin Teller of the Washington Metropolitan Police Department took a bite of prune Danish. His phone hadn't stopped ringing since Clarence Sutherland's body was discovered. He'd just hung up on the head of security for the Supreme Court, who had cleared him for twenty-four-hour unlimited access to the court building until the investigation was over. Now, he was talking to a reporter from The Washington Post. "You know more than I do at this stage," he said. "Yeah, that's right, it was a .22 and he was sitting in the Chief Justice's chair when it happened. Other than that ... what? Who told you that? ... Your sources are privileged? Wonderful, so are mine. Sure, I'll get back to you the minute we come up with something." How many times over the years had he said that?
He hung up the phone and finished the Danish, washing it down with the cold remains of a container of coffee. He opened a file folder on his desk marked SUTHERLAND, C. HOMICIDE, and read the only two pieces of paper in it, then closed it and lighted a clove cigarette. He'd discovered cloves six months earlier while trying to quit smoking, his rationalization being that they tasted so bad he'd be reluctant to light one up. It hadn't worked. He was now a two-pack-a-day clove cigarette smoker.
The phone rang. "Detective Teller," he said.
"Good morning," a pleasant female voice said. "This is Susanna Pinscher at the Justice Department. I'm calling about the Sutherland matter."
"Matter?" he muttered to himself. At Justice even a murder was a legal "matter." "What can I do for you?"
"Well, I've been assigned to the case over here at Justice. I was told you'd be handling it at MPD and thought we should touch base."
Touch base ... boy, she had all the lines. Still, it made sense. "Okay."
"Look, Lieutenant Teller, could we get together this afternoon? I'd like to set up a system to pool information."
"Do you have any?"
"Information. I'm afraid I don't."
"Just background on the deceased, the circumstances of his being found, how he was killed."
Her sigh wasn't lost on him. He'd try to be more cooperative. "It's been a tough morning, Miss Pinscher. Sorry if I seem short. Sure, let's get together."
"How about three this afternoon?"
"No good for me. I'm interviewing Sutherland's family then." He silently debated it, then asked, "Want to come with me?"
"Well, I ... yes, thank you, I appreciate the offer."
"I'll meet you in front of Sutherland's house at three. Know where it is?"
"I have the address. What kind of car should I look for?"
"Forget the car. You'll know me immediately."
"I'm the handsomest detective on the force, a cross between Paul Newman and Walter Matthau."
"And modest as all get out."
"Yeah, that's me. See you at three."
He hung up, stood, stretched and looked out his window over a blustery October Washington day. "Almost winter," he muttered as he rolled down his shirt sleeves. The right cuff flapped open. He'd noticed the missing button while dressing that morning but was running late. Besides, all his other shirts were missing buttons too. He slipped on his suit jacket and went to a small cracked mirror hanging crookedly near the door. Some days he felt younger than his forty-six years, but this wasn't one of them. His reflection in the cracked glass didn't help. He'd put on weight and was developing jowls beneath prominent pink cheeks. Loss of thin, brown, straight hair had advanced enough to cause him to start parting it lower so that the long strands could be combed up over the balding spot. "Moonface," he'd been called in high school. He smiled as he turned to retrieve the Sutherland folder from his desk. No matter what age had done to him, he looked better now than when he was in high school. At least the acne was gone.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Murder in the Supreme Court"
Copyright © 2015 Margaret Truman.
Excerpted by permission of RosettaBooks.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Loved it. Exciting right to the end.
slow start until the middle then got better
This the second book of Ms. Truman's that I've read and it will be my last. While it is well written there are too many uninteresting characters to put up with (including the main ones). The story lacked humor and character development.
The book Murder in the Supreme Court by Margaret Truman is a very good novel. The book is a very well written mystery that has many twists and turns. The book begins when the Chief Clerk Clarence Sutherland is found murdered in the Supreme Court Chief Justice¿s chair. The Chief Justice at the time is Jonathan Poulson who has been appointed by the newly elected President Randolph Jorgens. Justice Poulson was appointed to Chief Justice by Jorgens in order to take conservative stances on cases brought before the Supreme Court. One reason that I like this book is the way that Truman runs the detectives around in circles. In the book two detectives are assigned to the Sutherland murder case. One is Martin Teller from the MPD (Washington Metropolitan Police Department) and the other is Susanna Pinscher from the Justice Department. Both detectives are confused about this case because it has occurred in such a high place in the US government, plus there is no definitive suspect in the case. As the book progresses the author starts to show ways in which all of the characters are connected to Sutherland. It seemed to the police that Sutherland held a harmful secret over everybody¿s head. Many people inside and outside of the court hated Sutherland. People disliked him for many separate reasons. At this point in the novel however, Truman did not tell us why people hated Sutherland. After an investigation of Clarence¿s apartment, Teller finds out that Clarence had many lovers and was not faithful to any of them. Teller believed that Clarence being unfaithful qualified as a murder motive. This belief put many suspects in Detective Teller¿s mind. While pondering over suspects, Temple Conover¿s (another Justice) wife turned a gun over to the police stating that she believed it was the murder weapon. After much testing, the gun did turn out to be the murder weapon in the Clarence Sutherland case. Later in the story Susanna Pinchser takes a vacation to California to visit her father with her son. While in California Susanna goes to visit a friend of another Supreme Court Justice. The friend tells Susanna that Justice Childs is a fraud. He tells her that Childs isn¿t really a war hero, and that he and Childs just made up the war story when they came back from Vietnam. Susanna also finds out that the friend had been a patient of Clarence¿s father. Clarence¿s father is a psychiatrist who has treated many famous people including Supreme Court Justices. Mr. Sutherland has worked on secret projects in the CIA while living in Sunken Springs. The coincidence is that before Justice Poulson was appointed to the Supreme Court, he had a six-month stay in Sunken Springs about the same time Dr. Sutherland was there. Mr. Sutherland also had a secretary named Vera Jones who had also had an affair with Clarence Sutherland. She proves to be a very important person later in the novel. All these connections are just another reason that the detectives went around in circles. Besides all of the people that were connected to Clarence¿s murder, the White House also had a connection to Clarence. The White House had just offered Clarence a job days before he was murdered. Upon further investigation, Martin Teller found out that the White House had offered Clarence a job in return for Clarence blackmailing some of the judges in order to win a few major cases before the Supreme Court. To add to the complexity of this book we find out that Clarence Sutherland stole psychiatric files from his father¿s office by using Vera Jones during their affair. In these files Clarence found information that could hurt many people including several Supreme Court Justices. Each character relates to Clarence¿s murder in a unique way. They all have their own specific motives, which relate to each other in some ways, but differ in others. The way that Margaret Truman relates each character in the book to the murder, making the book more complex,