By Warren Adler, narrated by Julie Griffin – You can’t help but enjoy the clever criminal lurking behind the scenes in this 1982 classic. Set in Washington, DC, around 1980 (it was a presidential election year, so thereabouts), a time when I lived in the Nation’s Capital, this police procedural includes many reminders of that place and time.
The novel’s protagonist, Fiona Fitzgerald, has abandoned the path expected of her as the daughter of a US Senator and serves as a Sergeant in the DC Metropolitan Police Department’s homicide division—a white woman in what was then a black male bastion. (This is one place where 35 years has made a profound difference. Today, DC’s mayor is a woman, its just-retiring police commissioner is a white woman, and the department is trending white.)
Fitzgerald and her partner face a baffling set of murders, but the reader/listener knows something the police do not: the perpetrator is recreating, to the extent practicable, the assassinations of past U.S. presidents on their anniversary dates. After the first two “copycat crimes” (James Garfield and William McKinley), you anticipate the perpetrator’s inevitable further recreations (John F. Kennedy and Abraham Lincoln)—with a growing sense of dread. Garfield, McKinley, Kennedy, Lincoln: the American quartet.
I found it hard to believe no one in the police, the media, or the local citizenry—full of history and political buffs—tumbled to the similarities between current and past events, especially after the two deaths on November 22, the anniversary of JFK’s murder. Adler makes the point that Americans are oblivious about their history, and I’ll give him that. But, thanks to television, the Kennedy killing is seared into the national memory, especially in Washington DC. In 1980, it was only 17 years in the past. About how long ago Y2K is now.
Fitzgerald (sharing a name with the martyred president) may be distracted by her love life. Her politician boyfriend faces a tough reelection battle in Queens. His congressional district’s demographics have moved away from him, and he needs cash (some new ideas also would help). What might save him is the financial support of failed Senatorial candidate Thaddeus Remington, a wealthy player in the Washington party circuit. I liked all the politics and, if there were some aspects of the story that seemed far-fetched, the time-capsule attributes were strong.
Listening to a book is a different experience than reading it. Most of the principal characters in this book are men, and Julie Griffin does a good job with them. Yet, I kept checking my iPod to make sure I hadn’t inadvertently clicked a 1.5 reading speed. Also, I wonder that there’s no one (the equivalent of an editor) to correct startling mis-readings. The point isn’t to ding the narrator on the kind of mistake any of us might make from time to time, but to emphasize that such persistent errors—like egregious typographical errors—take the listener out of the story.