If you liked Absolute Power and Murder at 1600, you’re in luck. A new White House murder-thriller is just out in hardcover, and if contract negotiations go well, it will soon wind up on a TV near you. The twist is that the author describes it as “a woman’s book, where most of the strong characters are female.” The double twist is that the author is maleand his day job is lobbying for a high-profile Republican firm.
First Victim is the first novel by Alexandria-based author Douglas MacKinnon (but his second bookMacKinnon previously put out Footprints, about the 12 men who have walked on the moon). Victim tells the story of Turner Ryan, a conservative president whose history of spousal abuse dates back to his days as state representative and governor. His marriage of convenience to Sabrina Ryan is inert, but the couple remain together for the sake of their daughter. Sabrina decides to confide (nudge-nudge, wink-wink) in press secretary Duncan Smith, but an ambitious vice president’s blackmail attempt ends up with the president dead and the first lady a prime suspect.
Despite certain similarities (and the current Hollywood imperative), MacKinnon insists that the Clintons were not a model for this dysfunctional family. “This was based initially on two friends who were severe victims of spousal abuse,” MacKinnon says. It’s also partially based on the story of former Reagan administration official John Fedders, whose battered wife Charlotte’s story also received book and movie treatment. “I thought, why couldn’t I take that kind of monster and elevate him a few levels to the White House. Having worked in the White House [under Reagan and Bush], I thought I could do it.”
Though MacKinnon paints Ryan as conservative, the author took pains to avoid citing any party affiliations for his characters. “The president is more just an all-around dirtbag,” he says. “He’s conservative and twisted and gets away with some dialogue that’s really distasteful. But it’s all stuff I’ve heard said before.”
Victim, with an initial run of 50,000, is this year’s prime offering from the smallish New York publisher M. Evans and Co. “I got offers from the big houses, but for a lot of different reasons I said no. As Evans’ No. 1 book of the year, they’ll pay more attention. At the bigger houses, if you don’t sell a zillion copies in two seconds, they’ll put it on the slag heap.”
MacKinnon will be talking and signing copies of First Victim at Borders in Bowie June 26 at 8 p.m. Call
(301) 352-5560 for details.