Washington D.C. is a dynamic place that can often count as a character of its own in many books or even on the big screen. While it is the setting for many political dramas and thrillers, there are many more amazing books set in the nation’s capital. Here are some of my favorite books set in Washington D.C. from a variety of genres.
Jenniemae & James: A Memoir in Black and White by Brooke Newman is the true story of friendship between an illiterate African American maid from Alabama hired to care for the home and family and her employer, a brilliant mathematician. Their strong but unexpected friendship helps hold a dysfunctional and highly troubled family together. Jenniemae & James is a touching memoir about love and friendship that bridges the barriers of race and culture in light of true friendship and love.
The Irregulars: Roald Dahl and the British Spy Ring in Wartime Washington by Jennet Conant is an extraordinary historical account about lies, double-dealing, propaganda and moral ambiguity. The Irregulars offers readers an insider’s view of the counterintelligence game played by the British in Washington during the early days of World War II. As a fan of Dahl’s fiction I found The Irregulars to be intriguing on several levels.
The Turnaround by George Pelecanos starts with three white teens driving through a poor neighborhood on a summer afternoon in 1972. They are under the influence and looking for trouble, unfortunately they find it. That day six lives were changed forever. Thirty-five years later one survivor attempts to reach another, and opens a pathway to possible salvation. However, another survivor is now out of prison and looking for a different kind of closure, the only kind he thinks he can find.
The Beautiful Things That Heaven Bears: A Novel by Dinaw Mengestu is a hauntingly beautiful debut novel. It shows readers Addis Ababa and the streets of Washington, D.C. through the eyes of Sepha who had fled Ethiopia seventeen years earlier, during the Revolution. Sepha now runs a convenience store in a poor African-American neighborhood in Washington D.C. which is failing. The Beautiful Thing That Heaven Bears is the title in the USA, Canada and Australia, but is published as Children of the Revolution in the United Kingdom.
In the Shadow of the Law by Kermit Roosevelt is a debut novel that is ambitious and complex. It gives readers a behind the scenes look at one of the most powerful law firms in Washington D.C. as its lawyers struggle to find their way. The law itself is really the protagonist, as readers get to see how people interact and interpret it as well as how it affects the lives communities and individuals.
The King of Torts by John Grisham introduces readers to young but dedicated public defender J. Clay Carter II. He is offered the chance to work the world of mass litigation, where lawyers sue big corporations with thousands of claims. Clay quickly becomes successful and in over his head. He discovers a conspiracy too horrible to believe and is soon in the midst of a complex case against one of the world’s largest pharmaceutical companies.
The Emperor of Ocean Park by Stephen L. Carter is a well written and scathingly funny work that utilizes aspects of family secrets, ambition, murder and justice gone horribly wrong. Talcott Garland, an African-American law professor at an Ivy League university, is charged with the job of unraveling the meaning of a cryptic note and to carry out “the arrangements” his recently deceased father left behind. While he struggles to solve the mystery, most of which stems from his father’s earlier disgrace, Talcott is going through a hard time in his own life. His wife, high powered attorney Kimmer is probably cheating on him, his law school colleagues are suspicious of him and a phony FBI man is following him. Talcott keeps digging and discovers a thread of corruption that goes all the way to the top, and his life is at risk.
There are of course more great books set in Washington D.C. For those that enjoy satire I recommend any of the books by Christopher Buckley, who is best known for Thank You for Not Smoking.