There are now 23 titles in this innovative mystery series. We as readers have been treated to a view of the Washington, D.C., areas in startling and unusual ways. Throughout the series, each locale is explored and used as a backdrop for the mystery. Murder on K Street is no exception. For many, the combination of politics and murder mysteries makes this series one of the best in the genre.
The prolific Margaret Truman died in January of 2008, so this may very well be the last book in the series, although we can hope that, as with other prominent mystery authors (Nero Wolfe/Robert Goldsborough, for example), the series may live on. Murder on K Street revolves around Senator Lyle Simmons, who comes home to find his wife dead in the foyer of their beautiful Washington home. The not-so-hidden family scandals begin to raise their vicious heads; Senator Simmons is estranged from his liberal daughter, doesn’t understand his son, and seems to have no clue about the life his unhappy alcoholic wife led.
For the first time in this series, the resplendent mystery-solving couple Mac and Annabel Smith take a supportive role. The unofficial and often reluctant detective is Phil Rotondi, a former U.S. Attorney who has been a close friend of Lyle and Jeannette Simmons since college. The world of the lobbyist is a prominent suspect in the case, and Truman informs us that "there are more than 35,000 registered lobbyists in Washington...” The power and influence garnered and dispensed by these lobbyists definitely play an important part of the plotting for Murder on K Street.
One awkward situation in this book arises in the clashes between the bigoted Senator Simmons and the head detective on the case, Detective Chang. The conflicts and head-butting between the two men seem awkward and contrived, without a real foundation. In addition, Jonell Marbury, the African-American co-worker of Neil Simmons (the senator’s son), seems to be provided purely to provide another minority character, albeit one with a firm sense of conscience and morals. The placement of these secondary characters does not seem to move the plot forward at all and proves to be only a distraction to the reading.
Truman cleverly uses the flashback technique to go back in time to college days and demonstrate the developing relationships between Lyle Simmons, Phil Rotondi and Jeannette Simmons. Through these flashbacks, we come to a fuller understanding of the strong love that Phil has always had for Jeannette, and how even in his youth, Lyle was set on getting what he wanted at whatever the cost.
Another wonderful thing about this series is that Truman has kept the violence low-key – it happens, we know about it, but there are not pages of gore and bile-raising blood and guts. Instead, she trusts in the readers’ imaginations to envision the scene and keeps the unnecessary unsaid. The same is true for her use of profanity – used discreetly, in character, as needed, without the need to use it as a conversational gambit. The pacing of the story is brisk and clear, for the most part, and even with the less worthy machinations of racial tensions, it is a tale that keeps the reader’s interest. As always, Truman keeps the political environment as part of the story as a whole. Her tight and timely mystery writing will be missed.