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Five great books set in WASHINGTON DC

12th February 2020

Washington DC is the latest place for us to visit in our ‘Great books set in…’ series. Five great books set in Washington DC.

Five great books set in WASHINGTON DC

‘You want a friend in Washington? Get a dog’ – Harry S Truman

‘What Washington needs is adult supervision’ – Barack Obama

‘People come to Washington believing it is the centre of power. I know I did. It was only much later that I learned that Washington is a steering wheel that’s not connected to an engine’ – Richard Goodwin

Advise and Consent by Allen Drury

The #1 New York Times bestseller and Pulitzer Prize winner Allen Drury’s Advise and Consent is one of the high points of 20th Century literature, a seminal work of political fiction—as relevant today as when it was first published.

A sweeping tale of corruption and ambition cuts across the landscape of Washington, DC, with the breadth and realism that only an astute observer and insider can convey. Allen Drury has penetrated the world’s stormiest political battleground—the smoke-filled committee rooms of the United States Senate—to reveal the bitter conflicts set in motion when the President calls upon the Senate to confirm his controversial choice for Secretary of State.

This novel is a true epic showing in fascinating detail the minds and motives of the statesmen, the opportunists, the idealists. From a Senate old-timer’s wily maneuvers, a vicious demagogue’s blistering smear campaign, the ugly personal jealousies that turn a highly qualified candidate into a public spectacle, to the tragic martyrdom of a presidential aspirant who refuses to sacrifice his principles for his career—never has there been a more revealing picture of Washington’s intricate political, diplomatic, and social worlds.

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Cross the Line by James Patterson

Shots ring out in the early morning hours in the suburbs of Washington, D.C. When the smoke clears, a prominent police official lies dead, leaving the city’s police force scrambling for answers.

Under pressure from the mayor, Alex Cross steps into the leadership vacuum to investigate the case. But before Cross can make any headway, a brutal crime wave sweeps across the region. The deadly scenes share only one common thread – the victims are all criminals. And the only thing more dangerous than a murderer without a conscience, is a killer who thinks he has justice on his side.

As Cross pursues an adversary who has appointed himself judge, jury, and executioner, he must take the law back into his own hands before the city he’s sworn to protect descends into utter chaos.

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The Big Blowdown by George Pelecanos

In the quartet of novels about life in Washington DC of which The Big Blowdown is chronologically the first, George Pelecanos intelligently breaks down the thin barriers between the noir thriller and the character-driven novel of embattled masculinity.

In the 1930s, Pete Karras and Joey Recevo are friends, backing each other up in street fights round the projects. Both go to war and come back changed: Joey is capable of buying into the criminal subculture and cutting adrift from community and Pete, almost fatally, isn’t. He ends up betrayed and crippled and, more than ever, obsessed with doing the right thing himself and making Joey do right again…

The observation here of small immigrant subcultures, and different kinds of honour, and the getting of wisdom about things as disparate as a good sharp knife for cooking and killing and the purer sorts of jazz, is stunning. He knows what people are doing whether they are Greek cooks learning about African-American food or cops chasing a serial killer. Above all, though, this is a novel about flawed people making bad choices and worse ones: Pelecanos’s sense of place and period is always in the service of his subtle grasp of psychology and his passionate moral commitment.

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White Houses by Amy Bloom

In 1933, President Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt took up residence in the White House. With them went the celebrated journalist Lorena Hickok – Hick to friends – a straight-talking reporter from South Dakota, whose passionate relationship with the idealistic, patrician First Lady would shape the rest of their lives.

Told by the indomitable Hick, White Houses is the story of Eleanor and Hick’s hidden love, and of Hick’s unlikely journey from her dirt-poor childhood to the centre of privilege and power. Filled with fascinating back-room politics, the secrets and scandals of the era, and exploring the potency of enduring love, it is an imaginative tour-de-force from a writer of extraordinary and exuberant talent.

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New Boy by Tracy Chevalier

Tracy Chevalier brings Shakespeare’s harrowing drama of jealousy and revenge to a 1970s era elementary school playground.

Arriving at his fifth school in as many years, diplomat’s son Osei Kokote knows he needs an ally if he is to survive his first day – so he’s lucky to hit it off with Dee, the most popular girl in school. But one student can’t stand to witness this budding relationship: Ian decides to destroy the friendship between the black boy and the golden girl. By the end of the day, the school and its key players – teachers and pupils alike – will never be the same again.

The tragedy of Othello is transposed to a 1970s suburban Washington schoolyard, where kids fall in and out of love with each other before lunchtime, and practice a casual racism picked up from their parents and teachers. Peeking over the shoulders of four 11 year olds – Osei, Dee, Ian, and his reluctant ‘girlfriend’ Mimi – Tracy Chevalier’s powerful drama of friends torn apart by jealousy, bullying and betrayal will leave you reeling.

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Andrew for the TripFiction Team

Do you have a favourite read set in Washington DC? Have we missed an obvious choice? Please let us know in the comments below!

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  1. User: Barbara Khan

    Posted on: 12/02/2020 at 4:25 pm

    I would highly recommend the Capital Crimes series to anyone who loves a good mystery series. Sort of an in-between cozy and thriller type of series. The author is former President Harry Truman’s daughter Margaret Truman. How cool is that? She certainly knows DC and her main characters, a husband and wife duo are really well done. Each book is centered around a famous landmark or setting in Washington, DC. There are 25 books in the series, so that will keep you busy.


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