Watergate: a novel

Although most of the events of the Watergate scandal are well-documented, there is still much that may never be known about what exactly happened. Who really ordered the break-in? What was on the missing 18 1/2 minutes of one White House tape? Who was the master organizer of the conspiracy?

Sometimes the events of Watergate sound like they should be part of a good mystery novel, but Thomas Mallon takes a different approach here. Instead of looking at the grand conspiracy, Mallon weaves a story of fact and fiction that works incredibly well.

While most of the major figures of the Watergate scandal make some appearance in the book (there is a cast of characters at the beginning, including fictional ones created for the novel), the most important figures in the novel turn out to be people like Nixon's secretary Rose Mary Woods (who is characterized as far from naive), Fred LaRue (a Mississippian whose role in the novel greatly outpaces what anyone remembers of him), Elliott Richardson (the "hero" of the Saturday Night Massacre, who is anything but heroic), and Dorothy Hunt, E. Howard Hunt's wife, who died in a plane crash just as the scandal was starting to unfold.

Overseeing all of this is Washington's grand dame, Alice Roosevelt Longworth, daughter of Teddy, a woman who had seen and lived it all, many times over. Mallon gives this tiny woman with a wild life a distinct air of both mystery and gravitas.

At the end of the book, Mallon offers an apology to people who may have been offended at the way he tweaked some historical facts to create his story. But none is needed. The book is called a novel in the title. The facts of the Watergate scandal will always be murky. Mallon's novel is not designed to bring up a new set of facts, but rather to turn Watergate into an intriguing story. And he succeeds.