There may be few Washington insiders with more firsthand knowledge of the interplay between politics and the press than Maureen (Mo) Dean, wife of Watergate conspirator John Dean. Unfortunately, Dean's fluency in her subject—Washington women, power and intrigue—does not mean that she can translate it into fiction.
Dean, who published her own story, Mo: A Woman's View of Watergate, in 1975, has invented Congresswoman Laura Christen, a woman of high principles who is in line to become the first female Speaker of the House. Though Christen is squeaky-clean, she does have a promiscuous daughter who works as her press secretary. The Congresswoman also has the requisite number of enemies—some sexist congressmen and some jealous journalists, particularly a fat tabloid columnist named Penelope Krim, who is out to discredit Christen (there's a rumor of an illegitimate child born to Christen and a powerful businessman). Krim would also like to steal Christen's reporter boyfriend, a guy who could have been a journalistic contender if only he hadn't stooped to writing as-told-to celebrity bios.
As if this were not enough subplot for a 284-page book, Dean adds some gobbledygook about a secret potion that turns people into sex maniacs, then kills them off by triggering heart attacks, and she introduces a pair of detectives who are poking into Christen's past. All this is probably meant to create suspense, but there is never any doubt that all the "secrets" will be explained.
Yes, Dean seems to be saying, a woman can be Speaker of the House and keep her man. But is she really going to apologize to him on the floor of Congress for having kept their relationship a secret? Is there a more moth-eaten fictional device to explain the daughter's promiscuity than the disclosure that she had once been sexually abused? Even worse, are there really educated, articulate people who think things like, "It was a wrist slap posing as an exit line"? Since Dean's revelations are all the same old stuff, maybe her Capitol Secrets would have been better left untold. (Putnam, $21.95)