Though I Campaigned All My Life Towards That Goal*

Today (or tomorrow, depending on when you read this) it’s Presidents’ Day in the U.S. Whether it’s the office of the president of the United States or that of another head of state, there’s a lot of power and privilege associated with high political office. So it’s not surprising that there is also a great deal of power-brokering, “wheeling and dealing” and more at the top of the political tree. All of that intrigue makes for juicy headlines; it’s also a very effective context for crime fiction. We can believe that people will do a lot to get and keep that kind of power.

For example, in Margaret Truman’s Murder at the White House, Ron Fairbanks is offered the job of Special Counsel to the President for President-elect Robert Webster. He’s reluctant at first, being somewhat of a free thinker. Besides, he doesn’t agree politically with the president. But he accepts the position. He’s just settling into his job when Secretary of State Lansford Blaine is shot one night at the White House. The security procedures alone make it very unlikely that anyone outside the White House could have committed the crime, and there’s a call for an investigation. President Webster knows that if he doesn’t authorise a complete investigation into Blaine’s activities, he’ll be accused of cronyism and cover-ups. So he taps Fairbanks to head an independent investigation team. Fairbanks is reluctant; he’s savvy enough to know he’ll be treading on a lot of highly placed toes, so to speak. But he has his marching orders. So he and his team start asking questions. The more they learn about Lansford Blaine, the more they see that more than one person had a very good reason to want to kill the victim. Blaine made political enemies including the president’s own Chief of Staff. Even President Webster himself is not above suspicion.

Margaret Truman was, of course the daughter of U.S. President Harry S. Truman, and so had an “inside look” at White House politics.  So did Elliott Roosevelt, the son of U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt and Eleanor Roosevelt. Roosevelt wrote a mystery series that reflected his knowledge of the world of Washington politics. What’s interesting is that although many people claim that Roosevelt was the author of this series, there’s also evidence that it might have been ghost-written. Whoever actually wrote the series, it’s interesting in that Eleanor Roosevelt is the sleuth.

For instance, in Murder and the First Lady, White House staffer Philip Garber is found dead in the apartment of Eleanor Roosevelt’s secretary Pamela Rush-Hodgebone. She’s the most likely suspect, as she and Garber were lovers, and Garber’s body was found in her apartment. What’s more, there is evidence that she and Garber might have worked together to pull off a jewel heist in England. But Mrs. Roosevelt doesn’t believe that Rush-Hodgebone is guilty. So she sets out to clear her secretary’s name and find the real killer. That’s not going to be easy, either, since Garber’s father is a powerful Congressman who doesn’t want Mrs. Roosevelt’s “help.”  And in Murder in the Lincoln Bedroom, Mrs. Roosevelt investigates the murder of Special Counsel to the President Paul Weyrich, whose body is found in the famous Lincoln Bedroom. The murder occurs during a top-secret conference between Franklin Roosevelt, Prime Minister Winston Churchill and General Dwight Eisenhower. If the press is going to be kept from knowing about this top-level meeting, they also can’t find out about the murder, so Mrs. Roosevelt starts to look into the matter. It turns out that Weyrich was part of a plot to assassinate Roosevelt. Now Mrs. Roosevelt has to find out who’s behind the plot if she’s to keep the conspirators from making new plans.

Of course, intrigue in high political places isn’t just confined to the U.S. For instance, in Agatha Christie’s short story The Kidnapped Prime Minister, Hercule Poirot and Captain Hastings get an unexpected late-night visit from the leader of the House of Commons and a member of the War Cabinet. It seems that Prime Minister David MacAdam has been kidnapped on his way to deliver a very important speech in Paris. World War II is on the horizon and MacAdam’s speech was intended to “rally the troops.” MacAdam’s political enemies don’t want him to make that speech; instead, they want to move England along an appeasement path. The speech is absolutely critical to the MacAdam government and to the nation, so Poirot and Hastings are given a day in which to find the Prime Minister, as his speech is scheduled for the following day. They look into the matter and in the end, they find out who is behind the kidnapping and where the Prime Minister is.

And then there’s Margery Allingham’s Traitor’s Purse. In that novel, Albert Campion wakes up in hospital, suffering from amnesia. He knows that he has an urgent task to accomplish, but he can’t remember what that task is. Bit by bit, he begins to recover his memory and with help from various people that he encounters, he starts to put the pieces together. He slowly becomes aware that there is a conspiracy to use counterfeit currency to bring down the British government and instal a new government in its place. Now Campion has to find out who’s behind the conspiracy and stop it before those involved are able to finish what they have started.

In Frederick Forsyth’s The Day of the Jackal, a far-right French terrorist group called Organisation de l’Armée Secrète (OAS) wants to assassinate French President Charles de Gaulle. There’s already been one failed attempt on de Gaulle’s life, and OAS knows that if they send one of their own on another mission, that person may be recognised and the plot foiled again. So they hire an outside assassin, a British assassin known only as The Jackal. The Jackal agrees to make the hit and begins to prepare. The French government finds out that a plot exists, but no-one knows who The Jackal is, nor does anyone know the details of the planned assassination. So French detective Claude Lebel is assigned to track down The Jackal and stop him before he carries out the assassination.

Sometimes, political intrigue can last even after a government is no longer in office. That’s what happens in Kel Robertson’s Smoke and Mirrors. In that novel, Australian Federal police officer Bradman “Brad” Chen is persuaded to come back to work after taking some time off to recuperate from the last case he investigated. The case that lures him back is the double murder of Alec Dennet, late of Australia’s 1972-75 Gough Whitlam government, and Dennet’s editor Lorraine Starke. Dennet was working on his memoirs at a noted writers’ retreat when he and Starke were murdered. When Chen and his team find that the manuscript Dennet was working on has disappeared, it seems clear that there’s a lot to these murders. Some very powerful people have a lot to lose if Dennet publishes everything he knows about the Whitlam government. So Chen and his team have to look for some well-kept secrets to find out who killed Dennet and Starke and why.

There’s just something about life at the top of the political tree that can be intriguing. Little wonder there’s so much crime fiction that deals with the political crème de la crème.


ps. As you know if you’re kind enough to read this blog, I almost always use my own ‘photos for this blog and I do it with pride. This one, though, was too good for me to pass up. Thanks, Acclaim Images :-).



*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Neil Young’s The Campaigner.


Filed under Agatha Christie, Elliott Roosevelt, Frederick Forsyth, Kel Robertson, Margaret Truman, Margery Allingham

20 responses to “Though I Campaigned All My Life Towards That Goal*

  1. Political intrigue, especially in thrillers, is high on my list of favorites. And it’s almost as much fun to read political science nonfiction. Blame it on the minor in poli-sci, I guess.

    • Pat – Political science is interesting, whether it’s fiction or non-fiction. I didn’t take a lot courses in the subject when I was in school, but the ones I took fascinated me. And political intrigue can make for a great context for a mystery novel or a thriller.

  2. Oh, THE DAY OF THE JACKALL was quite exciting. I remember PRIMARY COLORS more recently.

  3. This is the second time I’ve heard Day of the Jackal mentioned. Now, I really want to read it. Thanks for another great piece.

  4. Margot, I am always in awe of how you connect current events with crime fiction. Political intrigue does make for wonderful reading. I need to add Day of the Jackal to my reading list too.

    Thoughts in Progress

    • Mason – That’s so kind of you – thank you :-). I really do hope you’ll like Day of the Jackal. It’s a classic thriller. And I agree; political intrigue can make for absorbing reading.

  5. Happy Presidents’ Day! Apologies as I’ve mentioned them before, but good White House conspiracy thrillers include The Manchurian Candidate (and others) by Richard Condon; Absolute Power by David Baldacci and several good ones by Richard North Patterson and others by Philip Margolian (who has switched to Presidential thrillers recently-ish). Not many non-US authors who write about US president conspiracy thrillers, though? (I expect to be corrected now, of course 😉 ).

    • Maxine – Thank you :-). And right you are about Condon, Balducci, Richard North Patterson and Margolin. I’m glad you mentioned them, as there’s only so much room in any one blog post. I actually need to read more of Margolin’s recent stuff – I should catch up with what he’s been doing. Vince Flynn has done some similar kinds of thrillers, too. And no, I’m not going to correct you ;-). As far as I know, there really aren’t many non-U.S. authors of U.S. presidency conspiracy thrillers and other novels. You actually make a very good point there.

  6. I agree The Day of the Jackal is a superb thriller, and even though I had seen the film ,and knew the ending 😉 it was still a very enjoyable read.

    • Norman – The Day of the Jackal is one of those rare instances I think of a film and a book both being very well-done, so that one can enjoy both even if one knows the ending.

  7. I’ve always enjoyed political thrillers as I’ve always had a fascination with the political process. The nature of ambition is fascinating. And here’s a tiny shout-out for The West Wing. Yes, I know it’s not crime fiction – but it’s political and it contained one of the best presidents ever .

    • Elspeth – Oh, I very much agree with you about The West Wing. It really was a well-done television series, and I have high standards. Great characters, solid plots and all sorts of fascinating issues. Folks, I recommend it.
      And you’re quite right about the nature of power and ambition. They really are fascinating topics aren’t they? It’s really interesting to see what they do to people. And of course, the political process is interesting, too, and it affects us all.

  8. I love Day of the Jackal and all those consipracy films eg Three Days of the Condor and The Odessa File. In fact I prefer to watch the films than read the books. Happy presidents day Margot.

    • Sarah – Thank you 🙂 And you’ve mentioned some good ‘uns there: The Odessa File and Three Days of the Condor are fine films with great conspiracy themes. And I can see why you prefer the films; there’s a certain way in which the paranoia and suspense of a conspiracy are conveyed in film that can be really absorbing.

  9. Margot: I would have commented on this post yesterday but I was on a cruise ship between Florida and Bahamas.

    I wanted to add the perspective brought by Roderick Benns in his Young Adult mystery, The Mystery of the Moonlight Murder, in which a Canadian Prime Minister to be, John Diefenbaker, is the sleuth at 12. His actions and words reflect the adult leader he was to become in Saskatchewan and later Canada.

    • Bill – Oh, it sounds as though you are having a wonderful time – I hope you are! And thanks for mentioning The Mystery of the Moonlight Murder. That one’s been on my TBR since I read your excellent review of it. It’s such a unique perspective on the qualities needed for leadership and I am eager to read it.

  10. Can never forget The Day of the Jackal. That one had me sleep-deprived for a while. Can you believe how many years ago it was published? I also loved West Wing. Another pol. sci. minor here so of course I love anything connected with politics, although the recent presidential campaigns try my patience to the limit.

    • Barbara – I know what you mean about how long ago The Day of the Jackal came out *sigh*. And I don’t blame you for studying political science. It’s interesting – fascinating, really. But please, don’t get me started on campaign rhetoric. Please don’t.

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