Mortal Friends, best selling novelist Jane Stanton Hitchcock's latest book, is the perfect summer read. Set in Washington, D.C., it's part 'girlfriend story' filled with power, intrigue, adultery, and part murder mystery with a serial killer on the loose. Reven Lynch, the narrator, is a super social forty-something divorcee about town -- Georgetown, that is.
When another body is found in a local park, Lynch is drawn into the case. A detective with a story of his own is convinced that the perp is a Washington bigwig, so he solicits her help in navigating the terrain known as Washington society. Why would she co-operate? It "had always been a question in my mind," Reven muses early in the novel, as she thinks about the murder investigation, "Would I recognize evil?"
Mortal Friends is what Bob Woodward calls, a "dazzling, wicked murder mystery that unmasks most of Washington, which may never be the same." But, read between the plot lines and you'll find a primer on how to survive and thrive in social D.C.
As a New York transplant to Georgetown, and wife of Pulitzer prize-winning journalist Jim Hoagland, Hitchcock is very familiar with the social terrain. "The social life in Washington is so much more consequential than anywhere else," Hitckock explains, "because the feuds and friendships of Washington can have national even global impact."
Hoping to get some helpful advice for the new team in town I sat down with Hitchcock and asked her for a cheat sheet. Here are her seven rules you'll need to survive in the Capitol city:
1. Always remember the cover up is worse than the crime. Don't use your mouth as a shovel to get deeper in the dirt. When in doubt, keep it shut.
2. Women rule Washington. Do not let the pastel suits fool you. They can be artful, concealed weapons of mass destruction. If they start a whispering campaign it is worse than having Bob Woodward on your tail.
3. Always get two sources. In Washington there is the official source, but look for the 'super-ficial' sources (spouses, hairdressers, gardener, best friends, assistants, drycleaners) because they have a much better idea about what is really going on.
4. Seating does matter. It tells other people about where you are in the pecking order. Don't complain, but charm, even campaign your way into a better seat. It is time well spent.
5. Do not invite people to dinner if you do not know them or if you do make it worth their while. Powerful administration officials only show up for social dinners if they think they can do business or they are long time friends.
6. People survive scandals here all the time so never count anyone out. From Richard Nixon to Gary Hart to Elliot Spitzer -- in politics, everybody has a second act.
7. You can buy your way into Washington, but you better make sure you are nice about it. Washington is still a Southern town so manners matter.
And remember, as Reven says in the book, "Social life may look like it's all jewels and clothes and parties. But actually, it's helmets, guns, and trenches." So read Mortal Enemies and get ready for the fall social season.