Talking Location With author Leigh Russell – YORK
Ten Great Books set in Washington DC
24th March 2021
Washington DC is the latest location for us to visit in our Great Books series. Ten Great Books set in Washington. Washington, the U.S. capital, is a compact city on the Potomac River, bordering the states of Maryland and Virginia. It is defined by imposing neoclassical monuments and buildings – including the iconic ones that house the federal government’s 3 branches: the Capitol, White House and Supreme Court.
I’m cised – Washington saying (‘I’m excited’)
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. Advise and Consent is a timeless story with clear echoes of today’s headlines. Includes Allen Drury’s never-before-published original preface to Advise and Consent, his essay for the Hoover Institution on the writing of the book, as well as poignant personal memoirs from Drury’s heirs.
Children of the Revolution by Dinaw Mengestu
Seventeen years after fleeing the revolutionary Ethiopia that claimed his father’s life, Stepha Stephanos is a man still caught between two existences: the one he left behind, aged nineteen, and the new life he has forged in Washington D.C. Sepha spends his days in a sort of limbo: quietly running his grocery store into the ground, revisiting the Russian classics, and toasting the old days with his friends Kenneth and Joseph, themselves emigrants from Africa.
But when a white woman named Judith moves next door with her only daughter, Naomi, Sepha’s life seems on the verge of change…
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.
Happily Whatever After by Stewart Lewis
A dark comedy about putting yourself in unexpected places, reaching for your dreams, and believing in second chances.
Thirtysomething Page was content with her life in New York City—until it went to the dogs. Unceremoniously dumped by her boyfriend of four years and fired from her art gallery job in the same week, she flees to Washington, DC, and moves in with her big brother. She hopes the new setting and familial comfort will help her finally find her bearings. What Page finds instead is an unlikely refuge: a park for the neighborhood’s poshest pooches, and a quirky pack of companionable dog-run regulars who become fast friends.
Both four-legged and two-, these new allies offer Page a world of possibilities. The woman who hit rock bottom now has dreams: of having her own business, getting her own place, and even wilder ones about the ruggedly handsome owner of a vineyard and two equally fetching Bernese mountain dogs.
Unleashed from all that once held her back, Page finds everything might be falling into place. But just when she thinks her life is headed in the right direction, the road takes a sharp turn to show her just how unpredictable second chances can be. Will Page get her happily ever after? Is there even such a thing?
Witty, smartly funny, and modernly romantic, Happily Whatever After shows us all that sometimes imperfect can still be good enough.
Murder, D.C. by Neely Tucker
When Billy Ellison, the son of Washington, D.C.’s most influential African-American family, is found dead in the Potomac near a violent drug haven, veteran metro reporter Sully Carter knows it’s time to start asking some serious questions―no matter what the consequences.
With the police unable to find a lead and pressure mounting for Sully to abandon the investigation, he has a hunch that there is more to the case than a drug deal gone bad or a tale of family misfortune. Digging deeper, Sully finds that the real story stretches far beyond Billy and into D.C.’s most prominent social circles.
An alcoholic still haunted from his years as a war correspondent in Bosnia, Sully now must strike a dangerous balance between D.C.’s two extremes―the city’s violent, desperate back streets and its highest corridors of power―while threatened by those who will stop at nothing to keep him from discovering the shocking truth.
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.
All the President’s Men by Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein
It began with a break-in at the Democratic National Committee headquarters in Washington DC, on 17 June 1972. Bob Woodward, a journalist for the Washington Post, was called into the office on a Saturday morning to cover the story. Carl Bernstein, a political reporter on the Post, was also assigned. They soon learned this was no ordinary burglary.
Following lead after lead, Woodward and Bernstein picked up a trail of money, conspiracy and high-level pressure that ultimately led to the doors of the Oval Office. Men very close to the President were implicated, and then Richard Nixon himself.
Over a period of months, Woodward met secretly with Deep Throat, for decades the most famous anonymous source in the history of journalism. As he and Bernstein pieced the jigsaw together, they produced a series of explosive stories that would not only win the Post a Pulitzer Prize, they would bring about the President’s scandalous downfall.
ALL THE PRESIDENT’S MEN documents this amazing story. Taut, gripping and fascinating, it is a classic of its kind — the true story of the events that changed the American presidency.
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.
River, Cross My Heart by Breena Clarke
Set in Georgetown in the 1920s, River, Cross My Heart tells the story of a young black swimmer, Johnnie Mae, whose younger sister drowns in the Potomac River in summer — while the white children in Georgetown cool off in the clean, safe, turquoise water of the whites-only pool.
Filled with rich scenes of food and family, the black Georgetown community, and childhood friendships and rivalries, River, Cross My Heart follows the grief, the coming together, and the recovery of the community in the wake of Clara’s death.
The 500 by Matthew Quirk
Mike Ford was following his father into a life of crime, when he chose to go straight and instead worked his way through Harvard Law School. Now he’s landed the ultimate job with the Davies Group, a powerful political consulting firm run by the charismatic Henry Davies. Rubbing shoulders with Washington’s heavyweights and with more money and privileges than he’s ever imagined, Mike believes that everything has finally come right.
But he’s about to discover that power comes with a price. Henry Davies is looking for a protégé for a crucial deal and one that must go right no matter what. Mike soon learns that being on the side of the lawmakers doesn’t mean your work is legal. And there’s no place for a moral code when you’re on the devil’s payroll.
THE 500 is a fast-paced thriller that takes the reader on a journey through the corridors of power to the crack dens of Washington and the corrupt underbelly of American politics.
Enjoy your literary trip to Washington – and let us know in the Comments below if there are any books you would add!
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