By George Ebey
Author Donald Bain brings us the latest in the Margaret Truman Capital Crimes series, UNDIPLOMATIC MURDER.
In this installment, Washington, D.C. PI Robert Brixton’s younger daughter is slaughtered while sipping wine with him at an outdoor café when a teenage terrorist blows herself up. This sends the cynical, furious Brixton on a quest to uncover who was behind the bombing, and takes him into the murky world of lying politicians, international arms dealers, and deceiving alleged do-gooders, including the leader of a cult on the Hawaiian island of Maui, where, to discover the truth, Brixton lays his life on the line.
THE BIG THRILL recently checked in with Bain to learn more about his work on the series as well as the ins and outs of writing political thrillers.
For those who may be unfamiliar, can you give us some insight into what the Margaret Truman Capitol Crimes series is about?
This mystery/thriller series takes the readers inside a variety of Washington, D.C. institutions and agencies in which a murder or murders take place. Margaret Truman, President Harry Truman’s daughter, with whom I worked for almost thirty years until her death in 2008, had a refreshing, highly critical eye of Washington and its goings-on, and the twenty-seven novels in the series reflect her wickedly jaded view of politics and politicians. As her father once famously said, “If you want a friend in Washington, get a dog.” UNDIPLOMATIC MURDER, published by Forge this month, is the most recent book in the series. Since Margaret’s death, the books have carried my byline.
How did you become involved in writing for this series?
Back in 1980, my agent, Scott Meredith, asked me to meet Margaret Truman with an eye to collaborating with her on Washington-based mystery/thrillers. We hit it off and started work on MURDER ON CAPITOL HILL, which would be the second book in the series (another writer had collaborated with her on the first, MURDER IN THE WHITE HOUSE). Until her death twenty-eight years later, we enjoyed a fruitful, successful, and lucrative partnership resulting in twenty-four well-received, bestselling novels. After her death my friend, Bob Gleason at TOR/Forge, who’d published a number of the more than one hundred and tweny books I’ve written, asked me to continue with the series, which I was happy to do. With the blessing of Margaret’s estate, I wrote MONUMENT TO MURDER in 2011 (with Margaret’s byline), EXPERIMENT IN MURDER in 2012, and UNDIPLOMATIC MURDER this year. Next up is INTERNSHIP IN MURDER in 2015. My new agent, Bob Diforio, has recently negotiated a new two-book contract with Forge.
Having written books for the popular Murder, She Wrote television series, did you find that your work on that series influenced your work on this one? How so?
The forty-three books in my Murder, She Wrote series, which features the iconic TV sleuth Jessica Fletcher—played so wonderfully by Angela Lansbury—are vastly different from the Truman series. The MSW novels are written in the first person; all the novels in the Truman series are third person. That alone dictates a very different writing approach. The MSW novels tend to be lighter in tone than the Truman books, even though Jessica keeps tripping over dead bodies wherever she goes. Research for both series also varies. While my wife, Renée, and I research the MSW novels, especially places in which the stories are set (we’ve collaborated for the past dozen years), researching the Truman series demands a great deal more digging into the agencies or institutions in which the action takes place. I spend considerable time in Washington delving into its secrets, and reviews of the novels have applauded this attention to detail.
What do you enjoy most about writing stories set in the political thriller genre?
I learned early on that no matter how bizarre a plot I try to concoct about Washington, D.C., it’s still plausible. Washington is a city where anything can happen. In fact, some elements that I thought were extreme at the time actually came to pass later on, and were gist for national headlines. I have to say that tickled me. I also enjoy working with the sustaining characters that Margaret and I created, erudite former attorneys Mac and Annabel Smith, and most recently my creation, the crusty, cynical former D.C. cop Robert “Don’t Call Me Bobby” Brixton. Washington is a fascinating scrim against which to set thrilling stories, and I try to take full advantage of it.
What are some of the challenges?
The biggest challenge is gaining access to the inner workings of such agencies as the FBI, CIA, Pentagon, and Supreme Court, which have provided the settings for some of the novels. Gaining an insider’s view of such nongovernmental institutions as Ford’s Theatre, the Washington Opera, and the National Gallery is somewhat easier, although Washingtonians tend to be gun-shy when dealing with a writer looking to ferret out both the glories of those institutions, as well as the warts. Separating the PR line spouted by many from the truth takes some probing, but coming up with a bit of reality that lends excitement to the overall story is always gratifying.
Donald Bain is the author and ghostwriter of more than 120 books, including 43 in the “Murder, She Wrote” series. His novels in the Margaret Truman Capital Crimes series include MONUMENT TO MURDER, EXPERIMENT IN MURDER, UNDIPLOMATIC MURDER, and INTERNSHIP IN MURDER. Other books include westerns, investigative journalism, biographies, and the bestselling COFFEE, TEA OR ME?, which with its three sequels sold more than 5-million copies worldwide. The recipient of numerous awards, he is represented by Bob Diforio of the D4EO Agency.
To learn more about Donald Bain, please visit his website.