Published Book Reviews
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The clock is ticking for Fiona FitzGerald.
Grand Rapids Press
by Nelle Frisch
New mystery goes behind scene in Washington D.C.
Warren Adler is author of more than a dozen novels, including his black comedy War of the Roses, recently adapted for the popular movie. Immaculate Deception is his third mystery novel featuring a Washington D.C. police sergeant, Fiona FitzGerald.
Adler’s book takes us behind the scene in the D.C. police department and the House of Representatives when Frances (Frankie) McGuire, motherly congresswoman from Boston, is found dead in her Washington apartment. Is it murder or suicide?
The Irish Catholic congresswoman had been the chief spokesperson for the pro-life forces in Congress. Would such a person commit suicide? On the other hand, the police discover Frankie was pregnant, and her husband could not have been the father. Is that reason enough for suicide?
She dies of cyanide poison, administered in her wine. But the police find no fingerprints, not even Frankie’s, and there’s no note. Everything at the scene is neat and tidy.
Homicide Captain Luther Greene has his hunches about this death. He knows that cyanide isn’t the usual method of choice for either suicide or impulsive murder. He assigns Fiona and her partner, Cates, to work on the mystery.
The mayor and Congressman Charles Rome, the victim’s neighbor, political opponent and good friend, are ready to dismiss the death as suicide, but the boss begs for more time and sends Fiona to Boston to interview the husband.
Fiona is called the “White Princess” by much of the police force, and she is the attractive daughter of a U.S. senator. She moves easily into political Washington, but loves her work. She’s 36, hears the tick of her biological clock, and is considering single parenthood to the extent she takes one potential father along to Boston.
Her parents’ lives and Catholic upbringing help her understand the problems that develop as the mystery spreads to the abortion issue, Frankie’s own pregnancy and her husband’s philandering. The politics of black Washington and the Congress which oversees the district’s government add to the complications for Fiona and the police.
Adler has crafted a complex and interesting police procedural, with a twisty plot and well-wrought characters. In short, it’s a good mystery novel.
One thing did bother me, but it is probably more the fault of poor editing. Exactly the same description of Cates appears twice, only about 20 pages apart. Editors should catch mistakes of that sort.
I want to read two earlier Fiona novels, perhaps because I am pleased Adler has created a believable, strong and gutsy heroine.
Dayton Daily News
Compelling relationships and an agonizing decision give us a mystery with surprise
In crime-ridden Washington, D.C., a Boston congresswoman is found dead in her bed. From all appearances, she’s laced her own glass of wine with cyanide and, arrayed neatly in her bed, slipped into death. It looked like suicide. Everybody wanted it to be suicide.
But the homicide chief and female detective Fiona FitzGerald sensed it might not be. Everything in Frances McGuire’s bedroom was too perfect.
McGuire was well known for her right-to-life stance. She was a simple, direct and honest woman with no known enemies. Her children were grown. She and her husband had an amiable relationship that brought them together only when it was politically important. She had an aide who adored her.
There appeared to be no reason to kill herself.
Except Frances McGuire was six-weeks pregnant when she died.
Fiona FitzGerald’s job was to ferret out the truth, her chief said. FitzGerald was remarkably qualified to understand the case. The daughter of a former senator, she knew the ins and outs of the tough Washington political life. As a single woman growing older, she was in the midst of making the agonizing decision to have a child of her own.
Warren Adler deftly spins the take of Immaculate Deception in the manner of the best mystery writers. The author of The War of the Roses, Adler has a penchant for the complex problems of male-female relationships. And this, his third mystery featuring Fiona FitzGerald, is a good illustration of that talent.
Immaculate Deception is not just a mystery. It offers a glimpse into the thought process of a woman determined to have a child – with or without a husband. It explores the relationships of two women – Frances McGuire and her husband’s pregnant lover – both of whom need the stability of married life for different reasons. And, it unravels the devastating relationship between another well-liked congressman and his pristine wife.
Immaculate Deception holds the reader throughout and, as any good mystery should, thoroughly surprises the reader in the end.
After the box office success of The War of the Roses, he produced another book, Private Lies, which has already been bought for adaptation into a motion picture. Private Lies is being released this year, on the heels of the publication of Immaculate Deception.
If Immaculate Deception is any indication of his writing ability, Adler is very good.
Winston Salem Journal
Dark misdeeds mix with politics in a topical mystery
Maybe it’s Margaret Truman’s influence, but lately there are a lot of mystery novels based in Washington and involving government officials. Most of them make good reading, because, by and large, we like to read about the misdeeds of people in authority.
Fiona FitzGerald is a detective in the Washington homicide bureau. More than that, she’s the daughter of a senator. She’s assigned to investigate the death of Congresswoman Frances McGuire, who is a leader in the “right to life” movement. Ms. McGuire is found dead of cyanide poisoning, in a bed in her apartment, with no sign of forced entry and no suspicious fingerprints. To make the situation even more interesting, Ms. McGuire is six weeks pregnant, even though she and her husband have been separated much longer than that.
Such a situation puts considerable pressure on the Washington police. Was Ms. McGuire done away with by political opponents to end her fight for “right to life?” Was her death possibly a suicide prompted by her pregnancy and her opposition to abortion?
Adler writes convincingly of police work in Washington, showing how pressures from the Washington brass interfere with the job that needs to be done.
And this story isn’t confined to Washington. As the plot grows more complicated and more suspects are involved, Ms. FitzGerald travels to Boston.
Adler plays the suicide vs. murder question well. He works the political background deftly into the story, building the suspense. His political characters are believable, and the reader is led up several blind alleys before the truth comes out.
There is a subplot centered on Ms. FitzGerald’s desire and plans to have a child; there’s a good twist in that, too.
This is one of the better mysteries – well-written, well-paced, and with a logical conclusion.
Politics, Murder, Babies Make Strange Bedfellows in Capital
Girl detectives have changed since I first read Nancy Drew in 1957. Back then, they found lost treasure and had friends who were boys. Now they are professional women who solve violent crimes and have sex with married men.
In Immaculate Deception, author Warren Adler’s otherwise attractive Washington DC police sergeant, Fiona FitzGerald, engages in some devious (and I thought reprehensible and irresponsible) machinations to try to get pregnant. That behaviour, and the accompanying interior monologue and conversations with the spirit of her dead mother, complicate and sometimes distract from solving the complex problems posed by the death of Congresswoman Frances (Frankie) McGuire.
When Frankie, held in general high regard, is found dead in her bed, a victim of cyanide poisoning, the troubling but politically expedient and knee-jerk reaction is to declare her death a suicide. Unfortunately, Fiona’s astute boss, Luther Greene, has a gut feeling (with two hilarious underpinnings) that it was murder.
When the medical examiner determines that Frankie, a 47 year old healthy female was six weeks pregnant, the suicide assumptions begins to founder. Would a prominent, staunchly pro-life, married Catholic Congresswoman who hasn’t slept with her husband in years have a baby, an abortion or commit suicide? And who, by the way, is the father? Answering these questions is complicated by:
- Frankie’s ever-present, gay assistant, Harlan Foy, who states categorically that there was no time in her schedule for romantic trysts;
- Politicians in three jurisdictions (the cities of Washington and Boston, and the U.S. Congress) attempting to manage the investigation, ostensibly to preserve Frankie’s memory, while actually trying to protect themselves from potentially damaging political fallout;
- The quintessential arch pro-lifer, May Carter, one of Frankie’s most powerful and vocal constituents, who insists that Frankie was murdered by pro-choice assassins;
- Luther’s quick grasp of the political bombshell that would explode in his lap if a quick suicide verdict were later found to have covered up Frankie’s pregnancy;
- Her best friend Congress, Rep. Charles Rome, who is loudly and publicly called “scum” by May Carter for his ardent pro-choice stand; and
- Her stay at home in Boston husband Jack’s not so secret girlfriend’s pregnancy.
Immaculate Deception is loaded with every kind of abortion conflict. It is not quite a traditional police procedural, and it is too gritty to fall into the category called romantic suspense. Fiona is too much of a tough cop, and the book, therefore, defies easy categorization.
Why read Immaculate Deception? It has a wonderfully cynical Washington cop’s-eye-view of the politics of police work where the lives and deaths of the high and mighty are involved. A congressional corpse gets priority autopsy; Congressional sensitivity to nuances of publicity and opportunities for denial influence both management decisions and rank-and-file police work.
It has Fiona FitzGerald, the daughter of a Kennedyesque former Senator who has inherited a wonderful house, a reasonably comforting chunk of cash, and a clear memory of how politics can skew family life. She is too tough to be called “spunky” and too obsessed with her biological clock not to be somewhat annoying. Nonetheless, she is smart enough to carry this story, and sufficiently interesting to make me try to seek out Adler’s two previous FitzGerald books. I’m curious to know if the biological clock is ticking so loudly in either book.
Finally, if you skip the abortion and fertility angst and cut to the chase, Immaculate Deception is a snappy savvy Washington-insider’s political murder mystery which both entertaining and amusing.
Washington, D.C. homicide detective Fiona FitzGerald joined the force with three strikes against her – she’s a woman, she’s white, and she comes from a privileged background. In the macho world of the D.C. Police Department, Fiona is definitely at a disadvantage, having to work twice as hard for half the credit.
Still, Fiona’s intuition, though much maligned by her male superior, makes her a shrewd, effective cop. In Warren Adler’s third FitzGerald mystery, Fiona is faced with a case that tests her crime solving savvy to the utmost.
When Boston Congresswoman Frances “Frankie” McGuire is found dead in her apartment, it looks like a clear case of suicide. But when the autopsy reveals that the congresswoman, an ardent right-to-lifer, was six weeks pregnant, Fiona begins to doubt her original hunch. Would a leader of the anti-abortion movement kill her unborn baby – and herself?
That leaves Fiona with two mysteries on her hands. Who murdered Frankie, and who was the father of her fetus? She couldn’t have been impregnated by her husband, since they had been separated for several months.
There’s not a single fingerprint to be found in Frankie’s apartment; even the wineglass which held her cyanide-laced nightcap had been carefully scrubbed clean. “Maybe we got here the makings of the perfect crime,” sighs the police captain.
As Fiona gets to know Frankie’s friends and enemies, examining alibis and possible motives, she is facing a personal crisis of her own. After a succession of dead-end relationships, the 36-year old detective is well aware that her own child bearing days are numbered, and there’s still no potential spouse in sight. Fiona decided that single motherhood is the only solution; next time she sees her married lover, she’ll simply “forget” to use her birth control.
Immaculate Deception offers a refreshingly even-handed portrayal of the abortion debate; Frankie is depicted as a dedicated, honorable woman, and Fiona herself never quite makes up her mind as to which side she’s on. (Although the character of May Carter, a fanatic anti-abortionist from Frankie’s congressional district who swoops into town to badger Fiona and her colleagues seems rather overblown.)
Mr. Adler, author of War of the Roses and many other novels, has created a winning character in Fiona. The daughter of a New York cop in her first outing, American Quartet, Fiona is now the child of a Robert Kennedy-esque senator. A bit confusing to readers of the earlier book, perhaps, but at least her tough feisty-yet feminine personality hasn’t changed a bit.
Immaculate Deception is a solid, topical police procedural, sure to please fans of Capitol crime stories.
Immaculate a web of conceptions, deceptions
Immaculate Deception is Warren Adler’s latest mystery novel, a whodunit set in Washington, D.C. It belongs to that most idiosyncratic of genre: the abortion thriller.
Anti-abortionist Frankie McGuire, a congresswoman from a predominantly Irish-Catholic district in South Boston, is dead, an apparent suicide. The novel’s detective heroine, Fiona FitzGerald, suspects McGuire was murdered.
The twist: Frankie, 47 years old and estranged from her husband (read: no conjugal relations) is six weeks pregnant at the moment of her demise.
Frankie’s death, with child, creates an array of political motives and suspects. If, in fact, McGuire has been murdered, those who favor abortion rights can blame her death on “abortion fanatics,” ensuring her martyrdom.
If her death was suicide, then it could be construed as a result of her own anti-abortion advocacy, which left her to choose between the humiliation of having the baby or abortion, which would been unconscionable to her. Either choice would end Frankie’s political career.
The plot is further complicated by other conceptions and deceptions. Jack McGuire, Frankie’s husband, has impregnated his mistress, while desperately seeking a divorce which Frankie will not consent. Congressman Charles Rome, Frankie’s friend and advocate, is unable to impregnate his wife. The unmarried Detective FitzGerald has stopped using birth control, unbeknown to her lover, in an effort to become pregnant.
Adler’s Washington is an unforgiving and relentlessly political place. Police and suspects alike share a pervasive selfishness and cynicism. FitzGerald, for example, is confident, independent and adept at handling the insecurities her presence generates among her male colleagues. She is professionally honest as she pursues the murderer, yet personally dishonest as she tries to become pregnant. She has chosen her lover to father her child because she determines him “genetically correct.” But when he fails in this mission, she dismisses him.
Ultimately, Immaculate Deception is a fine story, with one well developed character (FitzGerald) among entangled in a cleverly crafted predicament.
Unlike the real Washington, however, the truth in this story is available at the end of the book.
by Robyn Edwards
Immaculate Deception gritty police mystery
Warren Adler, probably best known for his book, War of the Roses which was adapted into a motion picture, has completed his third novel, Immaculate Deception, the latest of the Fiona FitzGerald series.
Immaculate Deception continues to follow the Washington, D.C., homicide detective as she finds herself fighting time to determine if the death of congressional officer Frances McGuire, a vocal “right-to-lifer,” was suicide or murder.
Known to most as “Frankie,” McGuire’s death becomes even more puzzling when it’s discovered she was six weeks pregnant at the time of her death and separated from her husband even longer than that. Given her well-known personal and political views regarding abortion, it appears her death might be an open-and-shut case of suicide.
There were no signs of forced entry or fingerprints anywhere – not even McGuire’s own. Found in bed with a glass of wine, it appears the congresswoman died of cyanide poisoning.
It’s the police captain’s experience and instinct which tells him there is more to this case than meets the eye. The captain, nicknamed Eggplant by his underlings, has a sixth sense, as FitzGerald puts it, about these things.
As FitzGerald investigates, she learns there’s no lack of suspects if foul play is involved. Almost every character has a possible reason for wanting Frankie McGuire dead.
A few of those to be questioned by FitzGerald are: May Carter, head of the right-to-lifers who believes Frankie is “sleeping” with the enemy; Foy, Frankie’s administrative assistant and possibly a spurned lover; Jack McGuire, her husband who has a few secrets of his own; or Jack Grady, who can now run for the seat he lost to Frankie so many years ago.
In this novel, FitzGerald has been on the police force for several years and has gained the respect of her captain and colleagues. The men she works with have come to realize she’s not a pampered little rich girl passing her time as a cop, but a dedicated detective searching for the truth no matter what the cost.
FitzGerald is independent and lives comfortably from her parents’ estate. Her dad was a former senator, who fell from grace in the Capitol circle when he stood against the Vietnam War.
Not only does Fiona learn of deception within the political system, something she was somewhat aware of being the daughter of a former congressman, but she must come to grips with her own personal deception, too.
It’s up to FitzGerald to break the case, and the reader is carefully strung along by the author as the detective questions and unravels it piece by piece.
The book has 26 chapters of relatively fast reading material, with crusty characters, gritty cop talk and the nagging questions – who did it or did they?
The first novel in Adler’s Fiona FitzGerald series was selected by The New York Times Book Review as one of the ten best crime novels.
Using current issues and Washington as the backdrop, Adler weaves a twisting tale that even the diehard murder/mystery reader may not be able to double-guess their way through.
Herald Journal (Logan, UT)
by Edgar Miller
Warren Adler, author of the best-selling The War of the Roses, in his latest opus brings back Fiona FitzGerald, the tough and cocky Washington, D.C., homicide detective who faces the double obstacles of being a woman and white in the predominantly male and black Metropolitan Police Department.
In this episode, Fiona, who was introduced in American Quartet, leads the investigation into the death of U.S. Rep. Frances McGuire, darling of the anti-abortion crowd. The death looks like a suicide but Fiona’s eagle-eyed boss, Luther Greene – better known as “Eggplant” to his crew – has a gut feeling it’s murder.
To begin with, cyanide is not a customary poison for suicides and the victim has left no note. An autopsy shows that, even though she was in her 40s, she was pregnant. Investigation reveals that she and her husband had been virtually estranged, except for public, political purposes, and hadn’t shared a bed for months, long before she would have conceived. And, the husband has a mistress who, it turns out, also is pregnant.
It is almost a good novel. Unfortunately, it bogs down in long dialogue that doesn’t seem to advance the story or provide any real clues about where it is heading. Also, the character Fiona proves again that it is difficult for a man to write convincingly from a woman’s viewpoint. It’s just too strained, particularly when he has her talking dirty to show how tough she is.
And, the always controversial abortion issue is handled in such a lightweight way that it also fails to add any interest to the story.
However, if one speed-reads through much of the dialogue, the novel is relaxing and has an interesting finish.
The questions surrounding the death of Frankie McGuire, prominent member of Congress and ardent right-to-lifer, are exactly the sort that the Washington (D.C.) Metropolitan Police Department can do without. The room in which her body is found is pristine, wiped clean of even the victim’s fingerprints, she lies peacefully beneath the bedcovers; only the telltale signs of cyanide-laced wine intrudes. Suicide? Murder? Assassination by a pro-choice hitman? Then comes the bombshell: the middle-aged lady, long estranged from her philandering husband of 27 years, was six weeks pregnant. When Fiona FitzGerald and her partner Cates inherit the dubious honor of handling the case, the timing in Fiona’s life could not be worse. Having made a place for herself in a macho world, she is undeniably tough and smart, but deafened by her shrilling biological clock and about to heed its call-without the knowledge of her current lover and the prospective father, gorgeous George Taylor. Both the public and the private story in Adler’s (War of the Roses) second book about intrepid sergeant FitzGerald make good reading, capturing the political scene and the passionate duplicity of those who would wield power.
New mysteries demonstrate diversity
Warren Adler will, at least for some time, be labeled as the author of War of the Roses, basis for the recent movie. But his diverse writing interests include the creation of Washington homicide detective Fiona FitzGerald, a new entry in the growing field of modern women as crime solvers. Fiona made her debut in American Quartet, selected as one of the 10 best crime novels of the year by the New York Times Book Review. She’s back in the kind of case that makes the Washington inner circle squirm.
The victim is Frankie McGuire, a prominent congresswoman and ardent right-to-lifer. She died peacefully in her bed, with no signs of forced entry and no fingerprints anywhere, not even her own. The cause of death is cyanide-laced wine. While Fiona and partner Cates try to figure out if it was suicide or murder, the autopsy shows that the middle-aged congresswoman, long estranged from her philandering husband, was six weeks pregnant.
Adler’s strengths are in his handling of the political arena and the duplicity of those who live for power.
Roanoke Times & World-News
by Robert P. Hilldrup
Realism nearly ruins mystery set in Washington
When a Boston Congresswoman is found in her Washington bed, dead as a tree stump, all sorts of complications ensue.
How’d she die? (Cyanide in her glass of wine.) Did she kill herself? (Looks like it. She’d laid herself out neat as could be in her frilly gown.)
Of course, she didn’t kill herself, or else the seemingly endless investigation of D.C. homicide detective Fiona FitzGerald wouldn’t really have much point.
Author Warren Adler, best known for his War of the Roses, and the movie of that name, gives Fiona FitzGerald her third outing in his series of mystery novels.
The complications all seem valid. The racial politics of the District’s government intrude on every move the cops make. There are all kinds of nastily believable politicians swirling about in the wings.
If the book has a fault, it’s that it may be too realistic. Homicides that aren’t solved immediately tend to plod along, day-by-day, interview-by-interview, re-hash-by-re-hash. It’s boring work, and Adler comes close to boring the reader with just that approach.
Finally, in an age when more and more people feel that anything bad that happens to a politician probably isn’t bad enough, it’s hard to work up much sympathy for any of the many victims in Immaculate Deception, and that includes the one who’s dead.
The San Diego Union-Tribune
by Gus Stevens
Mystery roundup: Tough cases for female shamuses
Sergeant Fiona FitzGerald, Washington Metropolitan Police Department, is back. She’s a very busy lady in her third caper: She has a case to solve, she must fend off barbs (both real and imagined) from sexist colleagues, and she’s looking for someone to impregnate her.
Fiona’s success rate is not 100 percent.
Another killing in our nation’s capital, a world collection point for murder, shouldn’t upset the police to any great degree. Except that this time the victim is Congresswoman Frances McGuire, a vocal and controversial right-to-lifer.
It looks like suicide. Rep. McGuire, a good Irish Catholic, is found dead in her bed, very tidily snuffed out by a glass of red wine laced with cyanide. Why would this career politician, a workaholic, do such a thing to herself? Because she was six weeks pregnant, carrying an embryo that did not carry her estranged husband’s stamp of approval.
McGuire’s beliefs would never permit an abortion, and when the news got out that she’d been shacked up with another man, her career would be ruined. Her conservative Boston congressional district never would support such behavior on the part of its elected representative.
Fiona not only smells the almond-like scent of cyanide, she also smells a rat. Perhaps it’s murder. But the District of Columbia political establishment and the mayor’s office don’t want it to be murder. Just sign off the case, Fiona; call it suicide and walk away. What’s the harm?
If Fiona persists in looking for a killer, instead of merely closing the books, she better be right. You just know she’s not going to leave this thing alone as she puts her police career on the line.
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