Bestselling author of MURDER AT THE PENTAGON
MURDER ON THE POTOMAC
"A first-rate mystery writer."
Los Angeles Times Book Review
First time in paperback!
"Harry's daughter knows her milieu; better still, she knows how to portray it convincingly."
The San Diego Union
Law professor Mac has unflagging passion for two things in his life: his wife Annabel and the majestic Potomac River. When Mac discovers a weed-shrouded body in the latter, the former gets edgy. Lovely Annabel, owner of a flourishing Georgetown art gallery, must not only endure her husband's obsession with another killing, but she must believe Mac when he says that a stunning female former student is one of the only people who can help him.
They discover that the corpse was once the confidante' of a wealthy Washingtonian, which leads to the Scarlet Sin Society, a theatrical group thatperilouslyreenacts historical murders. And soon, the only thing that matters more to Mac than solving this serpentine case is preventing Annabel's untimely death (.
"Truman 'knows the forks' in the nation's capital and how to pitchfork her readers into a web of murder and detection."
The Christian Science Monitor
"Margaret Truman has settled firmly into a career of writing murder mysteries, all evoking brilliantly the Washington she knows so well."
The Houston Post
About the Author
Margaret Truman won faithful readers with her works of biography and fiction, particularly her ongoing series of Capital Crimes mysteries. Her novels let us into the corridors of power and privilege, and poverty and pageantry, in the nation’s capital. She was the author of many nonfiction books, including The President’s House, in which she shares some of the secrets and history of the White House where she once resided. Truman lived in Manhattan and passed away in 2008.
Read an Excerpt
When Mackensie Smith closed his criminal-law practice to teach law at George Washington University, he vowed to find time to smell the proverbial roses. Which didn’t necessarily mean he planned to turn to gardening. In truth, he did not enjoy gardening, although his appreciation of a delicate scent, especially from Annabel’s throat or shoulders, was as strong as anyone’s.
For Smith, indulging in quiet leisure time could mean many things, for he was a man of many interests. But two purely personal pursuits were most important to him: spending more time with Annabel, his wife, and enjoying reflective hours on or along the banks of the Potomac River, a Washington symbol as surely as most of the city’s monuments. Like most rivers, it was one of the principal reasons the city had sprung up there in the first place.
Somehow, for Smith, the Potomac and Annabel were kindred spirits. Not in any strained philosophical or poetic sense; Smith was too much the pragmatist for that sort of thinking. Maybe it was that both woman and river provided him with the sort of peace he craved. Annabel was an oasis of calm, as was the river. Both moved smoothly and with a touch of the stately, but no pretenses of grandeur. And there certainly was a parallel beauty. Annabel Reed-Smith was the loveliest female creature on earth as far as Mac was concerned. That she’d chosen him as her life’s mate was a reality for which he thanked Someone on a fairly irregular basis.
This day in late August, after having done so again, and taught a class and lunched with a friend from the State Department, he’d thought to stop by the river for an hour. Ordinarily, he would have found a secluded spot near the city and strolled the river’s bank, watching crews from the universities practice their smooth but arduous sport, appreciating lovers walking hand in hand or lounging on the grass, or just taken time to drink in the river’s tranquillity as it quietly slid past the city to empty into Chesapeake Bay. He occasionally fished the river for bass, smallmouth upstream, bigmouth down, usually in the company of a friend, Wendell Tierney, who fished to catch fish. Not Smith. Sure, it was fun hooking one on his barbless hooks, carefully guiding it to Tierney’s bass boat and gently releasing it to be caught another day. But catching fish wasn’t as important as being there. Yes, that was it. Just being there was worth it. Maybe that’s what rivers were for.
But he decided to do something different this particular afternoon. He drove north on the Virginia side of the river until reaching Great Falls, whose foaming rage creates Washington’s most stunning act of nature. (Its tumultuous waters, Smith thought, were rivaled only by the turmoil of politics-as-usual downriver.) He walked to the edge of the Potomac River Gorge and looked out over this scenic, moving masterpiece. Far below, water that had poured over the falls swirled in fast-flowing circular patterns. Like all intense beauty, awe-inspiring, producing fear as well as admiration.
The sunny warmth of the day had lured hundreds of tourists. Schoolchildren squealed with noisy delight as they romped through groves of oak and hickory trees. Photographers propped their cameras on tripods and waited for the perfect slant of sunlight. Bird-watchers trained binoculars on the sheer granite slopes that formed the gorge, fractured in many places after the molten lava of millions of years ago had cooled, the resulting fissures now filled with rich deposits of white quartz.
Lovely, thought Smith. Like her.
In time, with the visceral pleasure of warm sun on his face and the bracing clean air off the falls, he decided to head home. He might get dinner started. Or at least set up the ice in glasses. He turned and walked a few steps in the direction of his car, thinking that this might be one of life’s big moments, not big at all but a quiet time when you want nothing more than you have, and then the scream sliced the air like the fissures in the rocks. He turned and saw people running to the gorge’s edge. He quickly went to the rail and looked down. The small body below was caught in the swirling currents, tiny arms flapping in vain search of a grip. There was no sound, although the child must have been screaming; there was only the roar of a hundred thousand gallons of water a second cascading over the falls, majestic in its power, unforgiving in its violence.
Somewhere in Washington, D.C., on the Sunday following the tragedy at Great Falls, a funeral was conducted for the girl who’d drowned. The newspapers made even more of it than usual because the tragedy had happened where it did: another fatality claimed by the falls. Of all the parks across America managed by the National Park Service, Great Falls produced the highest number of victims—seven, eight, sometimes ten drownings a year. Few were the result of falls into the gorge. Most stemmed from reckless swimmers or boaters failing to respect the water’s power. In this case, the child, part of a class that had made a visit to Great Falls to celebrate the end of a hot summer-school session, had slipped away and had gone around the low railings that defined safety. What glorious freedom after two months in a sweltering classroom. You could almost think you could spread your tiny wings and fly.
The grieving family had already announced a lawsuit against the Park Service, as well as the administration of the school attended by the deceased girl.
But aside from those people emotionally involved in the child’s death, for most D.C. residents nothing had changed. It was too pretty an afternoon to dwell upon unpleasant events. People were out on the streets. The heat of the summer, like the death of the child, would soon be another pale memory. Autumn beckoned, Washington’s finest, most palatable season.
“ ’Morning, Sam,” a tall, slender young man with a neatly trimmed black mustache said to another young man he’d intercepted. He wore a soft tan leather vest over an American University T-shirt, tight jeans, and sneakers.
As the two men exchanged banal words, a few men and women sauntered past them. Then a third young man approached wearing a SAVE THE EARTH T-shirt beneath an outlandishly oversized gray double-breasted suit jacket, a small revolver in his right hand. Sam backed away, although the weapon was pointed at the other fellow.
“You bastard!” The newcomer’s voice matched the threat in his hand. And then the revolver’s report violated the scene’s tranquillity. Others who watched recoiled with horror, then braced like mannequins, mouths and eyes opened wide.
The young man slowly backed away, hands raised as though shields against another bullet.
“Don’t murder me,” he said. “Please don’t murder me.”
Another shot, this time the weapon pointed at the victim’s groin. His expression was more bewilderment than pain. “I’m …” He gasped, wrapping his arms around a tree in an attempt to stay erect. But his thigh and groin melted into a wet red stain, and his body seemed to melt, too, into the ground.
His attacker stood over him and now held the revolver inches from the man’s head and squeezed the trigger. A misfire, a dull, metallic thunk. The assailant recocked the weapon, pressed it to the chest, and fired again. The fallen man’s shirt became a crimson Rorschach. Again, the revolver was held to his head. Another misfire.
He placed the weapon in his pocket, smiled at the stunned onlookers, and asked of no one in particular, “Is he dead yet? Is the bastard dead?”
He walked off, slowly, casually; one expected to hear him begin whistling a happy Disney tune.
Another dramatic scene in the larger production that is the nation’s capital.