Aesop, the Greek fabulist and storyteller, once said: “We hang petty thieves and appoint the great thieves to public office.” This goes to show you that people have been skeptical of politicians for about as long as there have been politicians. And where do you find the most politicians? That’s right: Washington, D.C.
Washington, D.C. makes for a great setting for crime novels, because most everyone assumes politicians are at best dishonest, and at worst, criminals. And it’s also the capital of the United States, and home to the White House, the Pentagon, and many more of the most important monuments in the country.
So put that all together, and you have plenty of material for political thrillers, as well as straight-up big city crime novels set in D.C. And there are a LOT of them. How does one get started with so many to chose from? Luckily, this list has 13 great crime novels set in D.C. to help you with your decision. Because it wouldn’t be a list about Washington, D.C. if someone wasn’t trying to sway your opinion, now would it?
You can't have a list about D.C. crime novels and not kick it off with one written by an actual former president of the United States. (With help from the world's best-selling author, James Patterson.) In Clinton's first novel takes place over the course of three days, there is a traitor in the White House, a plot to unleash a virus on all of the country's technology, and to top it off, the President appears to be missing.
Samantha Owens is a Tennessee medical examiner with a tragic past, having lost her husband and children to a flood. Now she must confront the death of another person she loved. When she is called to D.C. to examine the body of an old boyfriend by his mother, she confirms his mother's suspicions: the ex-Ranger's death was no accident.
Stephen L. Carter's novel takes history and turns it on its head by imagining that Abraham Lincoln survived John Wilkes Booth's attack on his life. And two years later, he faces an impeachment trial for overstepping his authority. Helping work on Lincoln's defense at the law firm he hires is a young black woman named Abigail Canner. But when Lincoln's lead counsel is found murdered on the eve of his trial, she finds herself embroiled in a vast conspiracy of corruption.
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Michael Hudson is a prisoner with a lust for reading who spends the long days in his cell pouring over the books given to him by Anna, the prison librarian. When he is released back into the world, the D.C. he remembers is gone, and he must decide if he's going to be the man Anna respected, or go back to a life of crime.
And here's another D.C. crime novel with actual political ties: Margaret Truman was the only child of President Harry S. Truman. In the first of her mystery series, someone has murdered the Secretary of State in the Lincoln bedroom - and the list of suspects includes the President of the United States.
In this first in a hit series from New York Times bestselling author Baldacci, four Washington D.C. conspiracy theorists team up with the Secret Service agent to uncover a diabolical plot that could have disastrous consequences worldwide.
And this is the fun first book in a cozy mystery series about White House Assistant Chef Olivia Paras, a hard-working employee of the White House who gets caught up in a dangerous situation involving an assassin. It also includes recipes!
This is the first book in the D.C.-based series about homicide detective Alex Cross. Cross gets involved with Jezzie Flanagan, the first-ever woman to act as supervisor of the Secret Service in Washington. But a dangerous criminal is about to interrupt their lives.
In Vaughan's second Kitty Norville supernatural thriller, celebrity werewolf and late-night radio host Kitty Norville is invited to testify at a Senate hearing on behalf of supernaturals, which exposes her to a lot of dangerous new enemies.
In Clancy's eighth Jack Ryan novel, newly appointed Vice President Ryan must rebuild the government after the disaster at the end of Debt of Honor, while he is surrounded by enemies who would see him fail.
Ace reporter Barrie Travis is summoned to investigate the death of her friend's baby. Travis isn't a detective, but the investigation must remain so secret that her friend trusts no one else to help her. Because her friend is the First Lady of the United States.
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Florrie Fox is the manager of D.C.'s Color Me Read bookstore and a coloring book creator. When her boss offers her rent-free living space on the condition she moves in immediately to keep it away from his nephew and sister, she jumps at the chance. But when his nephew is found murdered shortly after, Florrie must work to clear her boss's name.
And one more from Baldacci, because he's just that good! This is the first in his series about Will Robie, a D.C. hitman who chooses not to carry out a job when he senses something suspicious. Now Robie finds himself in the crosshairs and must go on the run, but he may risk coming out of hiding to save a teenage girl at the center of a conspiracy plot.
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Liberty Hardy is a Book Riot senior contributing editor, co-host of All the Books, a Book of the Month judge, and above all else, a ravenous reader. She resides in Maine with her cats, Millay, Farrokh, and Zevon. You can see pictures of her cats and book hauls on Twitter @MissLiberty and Instagram @franzencomesalive.