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A Capital Crimes novel

By Margaret Truman

Ballantine Publishing, 2004 ($24.95)
ISBN: 0345444906

Reviewed by Shirley H. Wetzel

As writer Richard Marienthal drives through a traffic jam on the way to Union Station, he thinks his big break is about to happen. For months he's been collecting information on the life of Louis Russo, an elderly ex-mob hit man turned government informer, for a novel about the mob. Geoff Lowe, a smarmy and ambitious aide to right-wing Senator Widmer, has convinced Rich to make the book a non-fiction version of the mobster's story, including a startling revelation that could cause problems for those in the highest echelons of government.Lowe even found a sympathetic publishing house to publish and market the book. Senator Widmer, who'd do just about anything to harm the career of Democratic President Adam Parmele, has his own plans for Russo, which include much more than promotion of the book.

Russo has been living in Tel Aviv under the witness protection program, and is breaking his cover to come and testify for Widmer's subcommittee on intelligence. Marienthal is to meet Russo at the grand old station in Washington, but by the time he arrives Russo is dead, gunned down minutes after his train from Newark arrived in the station. His death is to all appearances a professional hit by old mob enemies seeking revenge, but soon the murder, and the information that is about to become public, attract the attention of the FBI, CIA, and other, less-well defined groups. Rich begins to have doubts about the wisdom of releasing the book. Some people feel very strongly that the information Russo confided to Rich must become public knowledge, while others feel just as strongly that it must not. Rich is forced into a game of hide and watch while he wrestles with his desire for fame and fortune versus his conscience.

Truman's usual protagonists, Annabel and Mackensie Smith, play a more subdued role in this novel, and I believe it is the better for that. In the past I sometimes found them a bit supercilious and smug - we know the Watergate is a high-priced address: to mention how many extra thousands of dollars the Smiths had to pay for a parking space is overkill, thank you very much. In this book, however, they come across as more believable and likable in their role as family friend and legal advisor to the troubled young Marienthal.As always, Truman's glimpses into the internal workings of our nation's political scene are interesting and entertaining.

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