Margaret Truman. Murder at the Library of Congress
Margaret Truman, a presidential daughter, kept current with Washington affairs. Her mystery novels are full of topical references
Added: 2 years ago
[scene opens with a closeup of the book's cover]
BIRDIE NEWBORN: [from off camera] This novel, Murder at the Library of Congress, enables Margaret Truman to pull on all the life that she knew, when she lived in Washington. It's part of the Capital Crimes novel series that she wrote ... um, she became a good reputation as a mystery writer.
"Murder at the Library of Congress" by Margaret Truman
In the depths of the U.S. Library of Congress toil thousands of researchers, chasing down obsessions, breakthroughs, and new contributions to human wisdom. But when amateur D.C. sleuth Annabel Reed-Smith enters this stately American institution, she discovers a hornet's nest of intrigue and murder.
The theft from a private museum in Miami of a painting by 19th-century artist Fernando Reyes of Columbus offering his book of privileges to Ferdinand and Isabella sets off the action in this latest Washington, D.C.-insider tale from Truman (Murder at the Watergate, 1998, etc.).
The bulk of the novel, however, unfolds at the nation's venerated reference institution. Gallery owner and former attorney Annabel Reed-Smith was looking forward to two months of research for her lead article of a special issue of the Library of Congress publication Civilization to be devoted to Columbus. Rumors have persisted for centuries about a possible second diary of the voyage to the New World written by Bartolom? de Las Casas, the explorer's confidant and friend. Annabel's work takes on greater urgency when she comes upon the dead body of pompous Las Casas expert and LC employee Michele Paul in the cubicle next to hers.
Back in Miami, journalist Lucianne Huston is assigned to cover the art theft, during which a guard was killed. When she learns of Paul's murder, the reporter suspects a connection between the two crimes, as does Annabel, who discovers that another Las Casas expert disappeared about eight years ago.
Meanwhile, the day-to-day operation of the Library proceeds full-tilt as Cale Broadhurst, the current Librarian, has his hands full dealing with Huston and the rest of the press, not to mention members of Congress.
Truman shows readers the art theft at the start of the book, so the mystery centers around who killed Paul and how his demise is connected to the art heist. A clue to the murderer is tipped clumsily; the discovery of the killer's identity comes as something of an anticlimax, but the fun of the book is getting to it. The Library is the real star, and D.C., as always in Truman's mysteries, proves fertile ground for intrigue.
Margaret Truman, Murder at the Library of Congress. New York: Random House, 1999. The murder of a Hispanic scholar in a carrel at the Library of Congress seems to involve the existence of an unknown second diary of Columbus's voyages written by Bartholome de las Casas. Librarian Cale Broadhurst has to deal with the situation.
Murder at the Library of Congress is the sixteenth novel in Margaret Truman's Capital Crimes series--but the first one I've read. I grabbed it up at the Friends of the Library Bookstore primarily because it was set at the Library of Congress. Mysteries set in libraries represent another sub-genre that I like to read. This one has Annabel Reed-Smith, former lawyer and current art gallery owner, doing research at the Library of Congress for an article about Christopher Columbus. Specifically, she is trying to determine if rumors of a diary written by Bartolome de Las Casas, one of Columbus's companions, are based in fact or if it is all just a pipe dream.
Also at the library is Michele Paul--the world's leading scholar on all things Las Casas. He has been doing research on the supposedly lost diary for years. Annabel wants to consult him, but the man is insufferably rude and unhelpful. He also has a knack for making nearly everyone he meets hate him. So, it's not much of a surprise when he winds up dead--whacked with the proverbial blunt instrument. Is his death related to the diary? And what does a missing painting by a second-rate artist have to do with it--if anything? Annabel and an ambitious television newswoman dig up clues and answers...and it all comes down to some very interesting files on computer disks discovered in one of the Library's forgotten collections.
This is a fairly decent mystery. I liked Annabel and her husband, as well as most of the other main characters. I saw the solution coming a long way ahead....although not the complete details. But I can't say that this book is so outstanding that I'll be tracking down the others in the series. If they come along, then I'll read them, but I'm in no hurry. Three stars for a decent outing.
Every library is more exciting than it looks. Ask any real reader. [Robert Baumann; p. 42]
Pursuing scholarly research was not destined to make one rich; the psychic benefits were expected to compensate. [p. 49]
I'd say we should clamp a tight lid on this, but that's like asking a politician to keep a secret. [Dr. Cale Broadhurst, the Librarian of Congress; p. 61]
Life in a library is supposed to be quiet, reflective, helpful--not bloody or kinky. [Mackenzie Smith; p. 269]
Baumann got up, stretched against an ache in his back, went to the window, and looked down at a man-made lake. He turned, leaned against the sill housing the vital air-conditioning, and said, "I got a call last night from Joe Betz in Los Angeles." Betz was the network's L.A. bureau chief. "He thinks there's a story in this Las Casas diary business. My nose tells me there is. According to him, some people out there, identity unknown at this point, are offering big bucks for the Las Casas diaries and map."
"Yeah. Those who believe those diaries exist also believe that Las Casas drew a map showing where Columbus buried gold. A lot of gold. Sixty Minutes did a piece on it six months ago."
"Yeah, I saw it. Where's the news? If I find the gold, do I get a cut?"
"No, but you'll get a letter of commendation in your file, and have the satisfaction of having contributed to mankind's understanding of his origins."
"Cute. Forget it. Give me a nice little war. When do I leave for Africa?"
"You're not going to Africa."
"Why? I was supposed to cover the unrest in Mozambique."
"It's cooled off there, Lucianne. I want you to follow up on this art theft, the murder, and Las Casas. See if they're joined at the hip. Everybody loves missing treasure. Like who'll win the lottery."
"But we don't even know whether a map and diaries exist."
"Right, but I'd like us to be in the hunt along with the eggheads. Speaking of them, there's a guy at the Library of Congress who's supposed to be the most knowledgeable scholar in this area. Name's Michele Paul. I pulled up some material from the Web on Las Casas. Dr. Paul predicted in a piece he wrote a year ago that he'd prove within two years that the diaries and the map are real. Go to Washington and get an interview with him. In the meantime, I'll keep tabs on the art theft and murder. The police say, off the record, that it looks like the museum's maintenance man might have set things up from inside, left a skylight unsecured for the thieves to get in. He's disappeared, never showed up for work after the theft. The cops say he had a record of drug use. If they find him, they'll probably know who pulled the heist. A couple of days off the stuff and every hophead spills."
"Washington? I'd rather go to Africa. Or some other war zone like L.A." Lucianne stood.
"Maybe when this is over. Might I add that our fearless leader has a special interest in this?"
"Yeah. Among his many charitable activities is raising money for the Library of Congress. He and Cale Broadhurst break bread together."
"Who's Cale Broadhurst?"
"The Librarian of Congress. By the way, it was he who killed your Africa assignment."
"The Librarian of Congress?"
"No, our fearless leader. Look, even if you don't come up with anything startling, we'll use what you get for the documentary on the Columbus celebration."
They locked eyes.
Baumann said, "Our crack research desk has info on Michele Paul and the stuff from the Web. Any of your sources happen to be in the Library of Congress?"
"Oh, sure, lots. But I'll have to go back through my files, search under 'egghead.'"
"I knew I could depend on you, Lucianne. Look at it this way. Instead of being where you might get your pretty head shot off by some rebel gunman, you can operate for a little while in the genteel safety of the Library of Congress."
"I'm thrilled. Yawn."
"Every library is more exciting than it looks. Ask any real reader. You're a hard-digging reporter. That's what people do in libraries - they dig for information. Or entertainment or distraction, whatever. By the way, you look tired. Why don't you get more sleep?"
"Because of your phone message. I'll get plenty of sleep sitting in a library. Thanks for nothing."
Annabel had wanted to spend the day in Manuscripts poring over Columbus's Book of Privileges again, but another researcher had reserved it. She took the underground tunnel to the Madison Building and stopped in at Public Affairs to see if they had any biographical material on Michele Paul and a list of his publishers for her article.
Annabel immediately recognized the woman in one of the offices. It was the TV journalist, Lucianne Huston. Two men sat in the waiting room, one cradling a video camera in his lap, the other perched atop a pile of black cases. Joanne, the woman who'd escorted Annabel the day before, waved her in.
"Lucianne, this is Annabel Reed-Smith."
"Hi," Lucianne said.
"You might want to talk to Annabel about Las Casas," Joanne offered. "She's researching an article for our magazine, Civilization."
"Happy to," Annabel said brightly. "But there are genuine experts around here."
"Sure," Lucianne said. To Joanne: "You say Dr. Paul won't be available until four?"
"That's what I'm told."
Lucianne looked at Annabel.
"I'm free now," Annabel said.
"Now is good. How about just a talk first?" Lucianne suggested.
"You two can use this office. I have to escort a reporter to an interview with Dr. Broadhurst."
Dr. Cale Broadhurst, the fourteenth Librarian of Congress, had succeeded James H. Billington after being nominated by the current administration and confirmed unanimously by the Senate. Mac and Broadhurst had been frequent tennis partners when Broadhurst was dean of GW's ancient literature department. They still stayed in touch, only less frequently now.
The Librarian of Congress slowly replaced the phone in its cradle and sat back in his blue leather chair. The wall to his right had bookcases up to the ceiling, as well as a bottom shelf on which rested a television set and framed photographs. Three blue leather chairs with wooden arms were on the opposite side of the desk. A large area to his left was devoted to comfortable furniture including a tan couch and stuffed chairs, another wall of bookcases, and an oversized rotating globe. Doors on both sides of the room gave access to terraces providing sweeping views of the Capitol.
While the stereotypical perception of workaday librarians was demonstrably inaccurate, the image of Dr. Cale Broadhurst as the leader of the world's largest institution of information might not have been. He looked distinctly academic; that is, were he an actor, he would have been cast as an academician, perhaps as the Librarian of Congress.
He was a small man, almost half size, and bald with the exception of a fringe of salt-and-pepper hair. His half-glasses were tethered to his neck by a colorful strap, and he was fond of tweed jackets, gray slacks, button-down blue shirts, bow ties, which he took pride in tying himself, and sensible brown leather shoes with thick crepe soles. Beneath it all was a brilliant mind, verbal fluidity, and an occasional flash of pixieish humor. But the phone call he'd just taken had not stimulated amusement. Excitement and shock were more like it.
He checked a clock on the wall. Four o'clock. The reception for Senators Menendez and Hale was at seven, giving him three hours to respond to the call in a meaningful, proactive way.
"I'll be with Ms. Mullin," Broadhurst told his secretary, leaving the office and on his way to the office of Mary Beth Mullin, LC's general counsel. The lawyer was a big woman as women go, rendered more so when standing next to Broadhurst. Although her official role at the library was clearly delineated by her title, over the years she'd become Broadhurst's confidante by choice. He liked her law school way of thinking even for matters having nothing to do with law. As his confidence in her grew, and she became aware of it, she never hesitated to tell him exactly what she thought, about almost anything, including an occasional personal problem he confided in her. Mary Beth Mullin was no yes-woman, an attribute the Librarian appreciated and needed.
She was on the phone when he arrived, which didn't deter him from entering and taking a seat across the desk from her. She finished her conversation, hung up, and leaned back in her chair.
"You look satisfied," he said.
"For good reason. My older daughter aced her government course at Catholic, and the repair estimate for my car isn't quite equal to the national debt. You?"
"National debt? I thought we had all kinds of surplus. If I didn't have to play the role of beggar over on the Hill, I'd be considerably happier."
Along with his duties as the Librarian of Congress, Broadhurst found himself spending more and more time recently making the case to Congress for library funds. Since 1950, the size of LC's collections and staff had tripled, and its annual congressional appropriation had soared from $9 million to more than $360 million. Still, there was never enough money, it seemed, to handle more than a half-million research requests from members of Congress and their staffs each year; to keep up with mandatory cost-of-living increases for the four thousand employees; to move forward with the electronic cataloging of almost 114 million items in the collections, swelling each year through the copyright division; and to keep pace with the daily demands of the three glorious buildings and their four thousand inhabitants.
"Somehow, Cale, I can't see you begging for anything," she said, looking towards the window. "Looks like rain."
"I hope it holds off for the reception. Always nice to have cocktails on the terrace."
Mullin's laugh was gentle and knowing. "It wouldn't dare rain on the senators," she said. "What's up?"
"I just had a call from David Driscoll."
"What did he have to say?" She ran fingers through short, dark hair streaked with splendid slivers of gray; she looked like a woman who preferred sand and surf to the sterile atmosphere of a general counsel's office. She wore just enough lipstick to make the subtle point that her lips were nicely formed. Dark suits and tailored blouses were slimming.
"Driscoll was his usual taciturn self," Broadhurst said.
"With all that money he can afford to be taciturn."
"Yes, I suppose he can. And afford to be the supporter he's been of the library, and the avid collector he is. He called to tell me he's been in touch with someone who claims to have knowledge of where the Las Casas diaries might be."
Mullin wasn't nearly as familiar with LC's collections as Broadhurst, nor was she expected to be. She was the lawyer, more interested in keeping the Library out of legal trouble than in its more esoteric side. But she'd certainly heard enough about the legendary Columbus-era materials, and the search for them, to realize the importance of what her boss was saying.
"That would be remarkable information. Did he specify?"
"No. I tried to get more information from him but he deflected my questions. He's good at that. He basically had one question for me. He wanted to know to what lengths we'd go to obtain the diaries if he was able to broker a deal for us."
"You mean how much would we pay."
"You might say that."
"What are the diaries worth, Cale?"
"Depends on a number of factors. If they exist. Their condition. What they say. Whether the alleged map is included. And, of course, the source."
"Yes. If they surface through a reputable dealer with a sense of honor, that's one thing. If they're offered up by a shady middleman, that's another. Agree?"
"Yes, of course. How did you leave it with Driscoll?"
"I said I'd have to think about it." His grin was impish. "I think you should think about it, too."
"It would have to be private money, wouldn't it, with Congress continuing to tighten its belt?"
"Ideally, private and public. Maybe not as tough a sell on the Hill as it appears at first blush. Sure, the military budget goes up every year, and the budgets for the so-called soft side of government go down. I'm considering slipping an aircraft carrier into our budget and hoping it goes unnoticed."
"Not a bad idea. You could call it the Santa Maria. What do you want me to do?"
"Nothing specific at this point, maybe some informal asking around on the Hill. That congressman from Appropriations who's always looking at you with adoring eyes at parties might be sympathetic if you brought it up with him. Is your husband still Senator Hale's favorite bridge partner?"
"Only when he bids correctly."
"Tell him to keep doing that. I intend to bring it up with Menendez tonight if the time is right, and he is ripe. I think the appeal should be to national pride, not that the LC will benefit. Shame if the diaries end up in another country. A possible shining moment for Congress and the nation. I'm going to feel out some donors as to what they might come up with to sweeten the pot."
Mullin frowned. "Not afraid of having it become public knowledge?"
"I considered that, but I don't think we have any choice. Driscoll wants a response within three days."
"I ask because Public Affairs called me this morning. Lucianne Huston is here to do interviews about Columbus, including the so-called Las Casas diaries."