The Ten Best Thrillers Set in Washington

To commemorate the publication of Margaret Truman's Murder at the CDC, Jon Land shares his list of thrillers set in Washington, D.C.

BONUS: Sign-in and comment on this post for your chance to win a copy of Margaret Truman's Murder at the CDC!

Ever since Margaret Truman conceived the brilliant Capital Crimes series in 1980. Washington, DC has been the dominant, if not exclusive, setting. And the latest entry, number thirty-two overall and my second since taking the reins, Murder at the CDC, is no exception. With that in mind, I thought it would be fun to list ten of the best thrillers set in the nation’s Capital.

 

Seven Days in May by Fletcher Knebel (1962): Featuring a now scarily prescient plot to overthrow the United States government, and arguably the greatest political thriller of all time, this classic is set almost entirely in DC’s true halls of power. The book follows the desperate efforts of Colonel Martin “Jigs” Casey to thwart a plot spearheaded by popular Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, General James Mattoon Scott. Mostly centered in the Pentagon and White House, the book also makes use of the kind of back alleys and little-known hideaways that helped define the city circa 1960. Some of the names have changed, but the haunts remain.

 

Absolute Power by David Baldacci (2001): A burglar chooses the wrong house to rob and ends up witnessing a murder committed by Secret Service agents. The conspiracy stretches all the way to the White House and Washington, as well as Virginia, settings dominate the action. Made into a hit film starring Clint Eastwood, Baldacci’s debut thriller wondrously mines his former career as a DC lawyer in evoking a sense of Washington that rivals any book ever anchored there.

 

All the President’s Men by Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein (1974): Washington dominates the riveting narrative made all the more powerful by the fact that it’s all true. We’re treated to great sequences set in the Washington Post newsroom, but it’s the scenes in bars, restaurants, and even parking garages that make the city a primary character in its own right. Even scenes where a politico is merely a talking head identified as speaking from the Capitol or White House lend a resonance and true DC flavor to the mix.

 

Murder in the White House by Margaret Truman (1980): The first book in the longest running thriller series going set a high benchmark for all the titles to follow. The murder of the secretary of the state in the Lincoln bedroom sets off a power struggle that stretches to the highest corridors of power. The daughter of President Harry Truman was blessed with a perspective on the city she loved shared by no other author, establishing the template that has endured for 40+ years.

 

Advise and Consent by Alan Drury (1959): Drury serves up a bird’s eye, behind-the-scenes, Capitol view of all the mechanizations involved in confirmation hearings for a controversial selection for secretary of state. The book stitches together a trail dominated by duplicitous politicos, backroom manipulations, and the cloudy nature of the truth itself. The stunning take on the dark side of politics makes the process a character, and a villain, in itself. And the book’s genius lies in the fact that the system portrayed is pretty much the same, and even more broken, 60 years later.

 

The President’s Plane is Missing by Robert Serling (1967): One of the first thrillers I ever read and one I’ll never forget focuses on Air Force One vanishing. With the president feared dead, a desperate power struggle ensues within the halls of power, even as the Soviet Union seeks to take advantage of the chaotic situation. Camp David plays a big role as well, along with locales remarkably unchanged after more than half a century.

 

Six Days of the Condor by James Grady (1974): Giving credit where it’s due, New York City is featured equally with Washington. But the DC-based scenes are where the power struggle at the heart of the book takes center stage. So, too, is the fact that the character of Condor, hunted in New York, becomes the hunter in Washington, turning the tables on the forces aligned against him as he takes on the entire United States government. Made into a brilliant film starring Robert Redford, directed by Sidney Pollack, and distinguished by the climactic sequence that begins with the late Max Von Sydow’s deceptively deadly assassin telling Condor, “It will happen this way. . .”

 

Along Came A Spider by James Patterson (1993): I had forgotten that the Alex Cross novels, at least the early ones, were set in the nation’s capital to supreme effect. The now legendary Washington, DC homicide detective and psychologist helps distinguish his debut adventure from the pack by working and living in the seamier urban neighborhoods the other books on this list never even mention. This is a different Washington than we’re used to seeing in traditional political thrillers and what list would be complete without a serial killer entry?

 

Debt of Honor by Tom Clancy (1994): This list wouldn’t be complete without this Clancy stunner that climaxed with a catastrophic attack on the Capitol Building that presaged 9/11. Clancy devotes even more pages to Washington, DC here than he did to the submarine in “The Hunt for Red October” to great results. Jack Ryan’s acting as the president’s National Security Adviser in this one, more of a cerebral role than the action-oriented ones he’s better known for. Ryan feels almost hemmed in at times as Clancy manages to turn the capital into a hive of claustrophobic warrens from which true power is wielded.

 

The Exorcist by William Peter Blatty (1971): Georgetown, including those famous stairs (located at 3600 Prospect Street), dominate the book, as well as the film based upon it. The university, the neighborhoods, and popular haunts have never been portrayed better in fiction, in large part because Blatty himself came of age attending Georgetown. It’s said that every year on his birthday, the author returned to his roots and revisited his love for the area. That passion leaps off every descriptive entry in the book, the area’s beauty forming a brilliant contrast to the evil that has invaded its borders.

Those are my picks for the Top Ten. Let me know if you think I left any Washington-centric titles out. And, in the meantime, here’s hoping you find Murder at the CDC worthy of inclusion, too!

*Author Photo Credit: Rayzor Bachand


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Margaret Truman’s Murder at the CDC Comment Sweepstakes: NO PURCHASE NECESSARY TO ENTER OR WIN.  A purchase does not improve your chances of winning.  Sweepstakes open to legal residents of 50 United States, D.C., and Canada (excluding Quebec), who are 18 years or older as of the date of entry.  To enter, complete the “Post a Comment” entry at https://www.criminalelement.com/the-ten-best-thrillers-set-in-washington/ beginning at 4:00 p.m. Eastern Time (ET) February 15, 2022. Sweepstakes ends at 3:59 p.m. ET March 1, 2022. Void outside the United States and Canada and where prohibited by law. Please see full details and official rules here. Sponsor: Macmillan, 120 Broadway, New York, NY 10271.

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Comments

  1. kim hansen

    Sounds good.

  2. Shannon Capelle

    Thanks so much for the chance

  3. Bridget

    Wonderful

  4. Mary McElhatton

    People who have first-hand experience should be the only ones writing historical fiction. Margaret Truman’s works pass that test.

  5. jane

    Really enjoy Capitol Crimes books – hope to win this one.

  6. JC

    nice selection of titles

  7. Janis Rich

    I really enjoyed this list. I am going to go back and find the ones I never read.

  8. John Smith

    These sound good! The Margaret Truman book must be a fun read!

  9. rmarcin

    Thrillers are my favorite, and I look forward to reading this!

  10. elvinoray

    would love a copy

  11. Shirley Evans

    Love Margaret Truman’s books! This would be a great read!

  12. laineyhf

    Some great classics on this list – thanks for the chance!

  13. Joe Titone

    Great Read!

  14. Joanne Mielczarski

    Thanks for the giveaway chance. Stay safe and healthy.

  15. techno777

    Thanks love these great authors

  16. Cindy Syrett

    I am very excited to start reading Margaret Truman’s novels!

  17. Nicki Somers-Bashor

    Can’t wait! Have loved all the Truman books!

  18. Gabrielly

    These sound good!

  19. Kasten Jayne

    A super list of which I have consumed many of the titles! Great reading!

  20. nancy lutz

    Interesting list!

  21. Marsha Kamish

    Looking forward to reading…

  22. Lori P

    Mostly familiar with the movie versions of many of these, although I have read a few of the books. I especially appreciate the travelogues they inform.

  23. Linda Zucaro

    Having reached the age of 80, I’ve read most of Land’s list and loved them. Definitely agree with #1. CDC is so topical now – altho not CDC, is Dr. Fauci a good guy here ?

  24. Jane

    I love the Margaret Truman series!

  25. Laurel

    Definitely several of these titles need to make their way to my TBR list.

  26. Kate

    I love a political thriller!

  27. Seema Sharan

    Would love to win and read these books!

  28. Eva M Mack

    Winter read…. under the blankets

  29. Jackie Wisherd

    I have enjoyed reading several on this list and hope to read more of them. I think Miss Truman’s book would be interesting to read.

  30. Tabitha Olson

    I love a great thriller!

  31. Margit Curtright

    Thanks

  32. Irene

    Thank you for the opportunity!

  33. Ron Gilmette

    I like a good thriller with a lot of action and snappy dialouge

  34. Susan

    I love the Capital Crimes Series!

  35. Roxann Larotonda

    I have enjoyed all of Margaret Truman’s books & would love to win this one.

    • Nancy Frank

      Sounds like a great read.

  36. Anne

    I love a good thriller!

  37. Marisa Young

    I like the list. I have read most of them. Looking forward to reading Murder at the CDC.

  38. Evelyn Haupert

    Great list! I’ve read six of them but would like to read the others. Thanks for the chance.

  39. Barbara Bibel

    Murder at the CDC is certainly timely.

  40. Pguynn64

    I have read almost all of these authors and excitedly waiting to read Murder at the CDC.

  41. PJ Gaumond

    The list sounds great. Murder at the CDC sounds amazing.

  42. Karl Stenger

    I would love to read the book.

  43. Daniel Weber

    Sounds great.

  44. Victoria Fisher

    Wow! I remember reading “The President’s Plane is Missing”. I was a young woman and it woke me up to the fragility of political leaders. Scary. Thanks for this opportunity.

  45. MARY PRIMORAC

    Great list. Thanks for the opportunity to win

  46. Kay

    I would love to read these Washington thrillers!

  47. Mlw1117

    I’ve read the first three of Margaret Truman’s Capital Series and have several more in my library TBR. I also like David Baldacci’s Camel Club series also set in DC.

  48. KateT16

    Would love to win! Thanks.

  49. Connie

    I need to read these books! Except the Exorcist. Not ready for that one.

  50. William Hamilton

    I have read most of the books listed including all of the Margaret Truman books. I look forward to the latest

  51. Mike Phillips Jr.

    All great reads in my opinion. Wouldn’t mind winning the sweeps to get this this one as well!

  52. Susan Pertierra

    I’ve read most of the ten and also like the movies that are based on them.

  53. Deana Kneen

    I would love to win!

  54. Brad Bonds

    I’d love to read this book!

  55. Lindsay Fairbrother-Henige

    Fascinating list!

  56. Jackie

    What a great list of books.

  57. Robin Weatherington

    Can’t wait.

  58. Joyce Delaney

    I’m more than old enough to remember Margaret Truman’s books. I thought her writing was elegant.

  59. Linda Cosby

    I like to read a good thriller.

  60. Geraldine Luke DeAnda

    With all the actual ongoing crime in DC these days, it will be a reassuring escape into crime fiction. So this contest is timely and appreciated.

  61. arball

    Sounds like a definite addition to the TBR pile!

  62. Suzanne Ciprian

    love read a good new thriller, thanks for the chance

  63. Johannah Brookwell

    Since I live near Washington, I think I’d love all of these books!

  64. ravensfan

    Great list!

  65. Anne

    Excellent choices. Love to read this novel.

  66. Laini

    Impressive and captivating.

  67. Mary Henaghen

    I love thrillers!

  68. Susan Seabolt

    Read some of these

  69. Sheila Cohen

    I love the Margaret Truman mysteries! I haven’t read one in a while and it would be great to win this.

  70. Cindi Hoppes

    My favorite genre to read and absorb!
    Thank you, Cindi

  71. Debojoh

    Thank you for the chance to read this book. Look forward to read it.

  72. Cathie Dyer

    Such a great list. I lived in DC for a number of years and love reading books that take place there. BTW, I met you a few years ago at Silver Unicorn bookstore in Acton MA when you were there talking about a recent Murder, She Wrote book.

  73. lasvegasnv

    suspenseful

  74. B Duggan

    Looks interesting

  75. Patsy Gallagher

    Some of my favorite authors are on that list!

  76. Tiffany

    This looks great

  77. corychamb

    Would love to read Murder at the CDC!

  78. pegpenquin

    So many great choices. How can I possibly read them all <3

  79. Joanie Hinton

    The list has some interesting reads listed and this new Margaret Truman book sounds good

  80. Gina Tompkins

    I think I’ve read a number of these. I’d love to read this one!

  81. marisa santangelo

    I’ve read a number of these, all good

  82. Joel Timmons

    Awesomeness. Bring. On. The. Thriller

  83. sfederici

    What a great list of reads! The perfect way to end the winter months!

  84. Ruth Swartz

    I love a good thriller book,I read every thriller book I get my hand on this book look like it going to be a great book.Thank for the chance to win

  85. Karen Hale

    Sounds like a fun read!

  86. Tracey Berry

    Great list! All of them well worth reading (or re-reading)!

  87. Rachel

    Sounds like a good one!

  88. Michael Carter

    Great list of titles.
    Yes, please enter me in this sweepstakes.
    Thanks —

  89. Linda Semler

    Thank you for the opportunity!

  90. Lisa Cobb Sabatini

    I would love to read this book!

  91. Lisa Ahlstedt

    Can’t wait to read it!

  92. RL Herskowitz

    Sounds good. I look forward to reading this book.

  93. Alicia

    Most of these are new to me. Got some reading to do!

  94. Kimberly Dull

    What a great list! Knowing how much I enjoy several of those authors makes me want to try out the ones listed that I’ve not read!

  95. mybearaz

    Interesting

  96. Patrick McDaniel

    Good looking list! I’ve only read four of the books so far!

  97. Daniel M

    looks like a great bunch

  98. Linda Peters

    would be a great summer read, thanks for the chance

  99. Judith Kahn

    Good list.

  100. Susie Shively

    Would love to win, have the paperback series….so good🐸

  101. Beth Talmage

    I would add “State of Terror” by Louise Penny and Hillary Clinton. This was a fast-moving book with twists and turns that kept me guessing and gave me lots of fun insider glimpses; I’m looking forward to the next installment.

  102. Melinda Gaines

    So excited to read Ms.Truman’s new book, Murder at the CDC.

  103. DIANE ERAL

    What an awesome list! Some I don’t know.

  104. Sandra R Cohen

    I would love to win Margaret Truman’s book because I have all of her books.

  105. Virginia Winfield

    I love Margarets books and would love to win one.

  106. Cheryl Ann McCray

    I need to start the Capitol Crimes series.

  107. Shelley Beachy

    This will be a great read! Another one for the TBR list.

  108. Patricia McCammon

    Before this book, I have read all but 2 of Margaret Truman’s books. Definitely have this one on that list now

  109. bunniker

    I spent over a decade working in D.C. This list is great for a chance to take me back to a bit of those environs.

  110. Donna Kramer

    I’m surprised how many I knew.

  111. amy mara

    Sounds good.

  112. Robert rieco

    Sounds interesting now that the CDC has been in the news for the past two years.

  113. Phyllis McGuire

    Sounds very interesting! Great list of books!

  114. Jeana

    Thanks for the chance to win.

  115. Randy Tharrington

    Sounds great. Looking forward to reading.

  116. Linda Gawthrop

    Thank you for compiling this list – some are familiar but some are not and will be added to my TBR list! I am a third-generation Washingtonian and always enjoy reading about my hometown.

  117. Toni Tuve

    I would love to win this. Sounds very good

  118. Linda Charlene Suchak

    My newfound reading list!

  119. Connie Ruggles

    Murder at the CDC sounds interesting! Thanks for the chance to win!

  120. Janet

    Along Came a Spider was my favorite from the list. Great novel.

  121. Cheryl Kula

    Interesting to see which books eventually became movies.

  122. TCasteel

    Clancy novels are always a good read. I remember when The Exorcist movie first came out; it was truly frightening for its time.

  123. Denise S Cook

    Love this list! Would love to win too! Thanks so much!

  124. Elaine Harper

    Have read at least half of these! Always love a novel set in DC, especially from those that are familiar with the area and the workings of the politicians.

  125. charles j hauser jr

    Loved her other book. This one sounds good as well

  126. Merle Carrus

    I have been following Jon Land for quite a few years now. He has written quite a number of interesting and well developed plots. Look forward to reading his WDC mystery

  127. VMosby1972

    Great! MORE to add to my TBR.

  128. Deb Philippon

    There’s a few books on the list I haven’t read yet. Thanks for bringing them to my attention.

  129. Karen Minter

    This sounds like the type of book I love reading!

  130. Suzanne

    CDC seems the perfect spot for a mysterious death.

  131. LeMinou

    I love thrillers & this one sounds fantastic. Thanks.

  132. Joe Steininger

    Some of my favorite novels are on this list especially Advise and Consent and Seven Days in May. The Exorcist is the best horror novel I have read and I am not a true fan of the genre. Have not ventured into Truman’s books but would like too.

  133. Joe Steininger

    Some of my favorite novels are on this list especially Advise and Consent and Seven Days in May.
    Have not ventured into Truman’s books but would like too.

  134. Ivy Pittman-Outen

    I am excited to read it!

  135. Jane Schwarz

    Interesting selection of books. I have read some of Margaret Truman’s and have enjoyed them. Thank you for this opportunity to win a copy of Murder at the CDC.

  136. Michelle Willms

    This is a great list! I’ve read many of the authors on the list, but there are a few I have yet to read. Thank you for the chance to win.

  137. Janis Milford

    I love reading books about places I’ve visited! And Washington DC is such an interesting place!

  138. JEH106

    Your list of ten is pretty good. I read at least six of the books when they first came out:
    Seven Days in May; Absolute Power; Advise and Consent; Six Days of the Condor; Debt of honor and The Exorcist. I may have read one or two of the others but I cannot remember them. To this list I would add Dewey Decimated written by a Library of Congress librarian.

  139. theresa norris

    Love the Margaret Truman series.

  140. Peter W. Horton Jr.

    I love anything by Jon Land! Yes!

  141. Roy Geiger

    How about Fail Safe?

  142. Anita

    Sounds like a great list. I would love to win!

  143. Susan Morris

    I have read just a few of these books and seen a couple of film adaptations. Thanks for suggesting the others. I’m looking forward to reading the Margaret Truman series!

  144. Joan Salinger

    Love DC thrillers and Margaret Truman

  145. ElizabethR

    I’ve read about 6 on the list and enjoyed many of Margaret Truman’s books also. This new one by Land sounds like a good candidate to continue the series. Thanks for the opportunity to enter the contest.

  146. Mary Garrett

    Ah, we will never run out of good books to read.

  147. susan beamon

    I’ve read 2 on that list. I guess I like y thrillers to move around more.

  148. Jeffrey Raiffe

    WOULD LOVE TO READ THIS BOOK.

  149. Christal M

    Looks like a great read!

  150. kjspookie

    I love thriller books and especially those that take place in D.C. Happy to see David Baldacci on this list! Love your suggestions, I will definiately check them out.

  151. Karen Terry

    I love mystery reads. Enter me please

  152. Clarissa

    I’m a third generation Washingtonian with love of mysteries. Give me more of this type of reviews. Wonderful list includes the Exorcist and many I have read. The Alex Cross series by Patterson is based in Washington with the DC police plus regalia from CIA FBI DIA and so on.

  153. gwenray

    I just adore thrillers and mysteries. I would love tho win this contest!

  154. rhonda

    They all look intriguing

  155. Marilyn Hamill

    Murder At the CDC. Dr F?

  156. christinereviews

    This looks like a great read!

  157. Caren Luckie

    Looks like a great read! Can’t wait!

  158. Victoria Barbour

    I live in Maryland, very close to DC. I love reading novels in a setting that I’m familiar with.

  159. Jodi Scott

    What a great list

  160. Dorothy Minor

    Quite a wide-ranging set of intriguing stories!

  161. Cindy

    Thanks for the great list! Looking forward to reading them all.

  162. pmy0451

    Can’t believe I’ve read all of them.

  163. Darlene Slocum

    Because of her own background I would really like to read her book.

  164. Patsy

    These were all fantastic books and a few turned into great films 🙂 Thanks!

  165. Martha demarco

    great giveaway

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