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Mystery author # 44: Margaret Truman

Margaret Truman, who died in January of this year, wrote a number of non-fiction books, mostly dealing with the White House and her parents, U.S. President Harry S. Truman and his wife, Bess. She also wrote a series of mysteries that take place at various landmarks in Washington D.C. In the Wikipedia article on her it is said that it has been claimed that the books were ghost-written, I suppose because someone decided it was beneath her to write mysteries.

The books in the Capital Crime series can be divided into two sub-series: those that feature Annabel Reed and/or Mackenzie Smith as the detectives, and those that don’t. I read one of each, not out of any particular choice, but because those were the ones I owned.

Title: Murder at the Library of Congress
Detective: Annabel Reed-Smith
No. in series: # 16 in the Capital Crimes series; # 8 in the sub-series featuring Annabel Read (-Smith) and Mackenzie Smith
Year of publication: 1999
Type of mystery: Murder, stalking
Type of investigator: Amateur (lawyer, but not in a professional capacity)
Setting & time: Washington, D.C., USA; 1990s

Small-time thieves steal a seemingly worthless painting from a museum in Florida, by commission. Meanwhile, Annabel Reed-Smith is in the Library of Congress, researching an article for a magazine about a man who was the companion of Christopher Columbus on his first three journeys to the New World. A very unpleasant and unpopular but brilliant scholar on the subject is murdered at his desk and Annabel is drawn into the investigation when she discovers the body. A hard-nosed news reporter starts sniffing around and uncovers some interesting information connecting the two cases, and a scandal looms over the library.

I found this book to be full of deftly drawn if somewhat stereotyped characters and offering some interesting twists and turns, but the clues were too obvious for someone who likes to test their mettle against the investigators. The first 2/3 of the book is slow going, mostly a gathering of clues, and then finally the pace quickens. I kept expecting a final twist, but it never came: all my guesses as to who was the killer, who was the other villain and who the creep, were correct, so my anticipation was all for nothing.

Rating: A mystery with an interesting setting but somewhat too obvious a solution. 2 stars.

Title: Murder in the Smithsonian
Detectives: Captain Mac Hanrahan of Washington Metropolitan Police Department; Heather McBean, museum curator
No. in series: 4
Year of publication: 1983
Type of mystery: Murder, theft
Type of investigator: Police, aided by an amateur
Setting & time: Washington D.C., USA, 1980s

Shortly after learning a dangerous secret but before he can reveal it, Dr. Lewis Tunney is murdered at a reception in the Smithsonian Museum. His fiancée, Heather McBean, arrives in D.C shortly afterwards, determined to find his killer. When she is attacked and mugged and her hotel room searched, it becomes apparent that whoever killed Lewis thinks she has information that can incriminate them. A shadowy acquaintance of hers may know something, and so may some of the museum staff, and in the end the only person she can trust is Captain Hanrahan of the Washington D.C. police and together they try to solve the case.

This is a much better mystery than the previous one I read by Truman. The characters are more rounded, although some still smack of stereotyping, the twists and red herrings are clever and well done, and the story moves fast from beginning to end. I was in doubt the whole time as to who the villain was, and I only found out for certain at the same time as Heather did, while still getting a fair opportunity to solve the case ahead of the sleuths.

Rating: An excellent mystery thriller with historical overtones. 4 stars.

Verdict: I’m not going to analyse Truman’s writing style or plotting abilities, but will let it suffice to say that I will read more of her books should they come my way.


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