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Tom Chaney: Margaret Truman Daniel

Of Writers And Their Books: Margaret Truman Daniel. Her plots are as finely tuned as those of Agatha Christie. Her style is comfortable and pleasant. This column first appeared 6 April 2008.
The next earlier Tom Chaney column: Stealing Time

By Tom Chaney

Margaret Truman Daniel

Strange visions often come to mind unbidden.

As I heard of the death of Margaret Truman at 83 back in January, there flashed across the screen of memory a day in late April 1945. A group of us fledgling scholars were sitting about the tables in Miss Lafferty's first grade class -- upstairs in the Horse Cave school house, the room to the left of the water fountain.

My Weekly Reader had arrived. The headline boldly blared "President Harry S Truman." The story explained that the "S" didn't come with a period because it didn't stand for anything. It told about his wife Bess and his daughter Margaret. They, we were informed, were from Missouri.

All of this was pretty exciting since Franklin D. Roosevelt (D period for Delano) had been President since before the beginning of the world so far as we were concerned. He was six years in office when we were born. Strange, but I have no memory of Roosevelt's death in the "Weekly Reader."

Like him or not, Truman was 'our' President and Margaret was a part of 'our' first family.

At first we heard of her as a singer. We were sophisticated seventh graders at Cave City in the new Caverna Independent School District when Miss Truman gave a concert at Constitution Hall in Washington, D.C. in December 1950.

Paul Hume of the Washington Post didn't care for her singing. "She cannot sing very well .... She is flat a good deal of the time," he continued, concluding that she had no "professional finish."

This criticism lit the Presidential fuse across town in the White House.

First Father sent a blistering note to Mr. Hume which read in part, "I have just read your lousy review .... Some day I hope to meet you. When that happens you'll need a new nose, a lot of beefsteak for black eyes, and perhaps a supporter below!"

In December of 1955 she met Clifton Daniel, assistant to the foreign editor of the New York Times. They were married the following spring.

That year she published her own account of growing up in Missouri and in the White House, Souvenir: Margaret Truman's Own Story.

The non-fiction work of Margaret Truman's which I found most interesting was her biography of her father, Harry S Truman [William Morrow, 1973]. In my reading this book came in the midst of a decade-long immersion into World War II; then the run up to the war and some of its aftermath. Thirty-five years later the intimate vision of a daughter for a famous father rings clear.

Of late I have become enamored of the Washington, D. C., mysteries which have spilled from the pen of Margaret Truman Daniel at the rate of about one per year since 1980.

The first was Murder in the White House in which a corrupt secretary of state is found strangled in the executive mansion. The word "Murder" in every title, is followed by "on Capitol Hill," "at the Kennedy Center," and so on.

"My mother seems to have a strong opinion, often bad, of almost everyone in Washington," Clifton Truman Daniel wrote in his 1995 memoir, Growing Up With My Grandfather. "That's why she writes those murder mysteries: so she can kill them all off, one at a time."

Her disdain for much of official Washington developed early. Mrs. Daniel tired of living in the White House, as did her father. She called it "the great white jail."

Most recently I have read Murder in Havana [Ballantine Books, 2001]. In that novel Margaret Truman moves Washington to Havana creating a small world in which an ex-CIA, ex-State Department spook Max Pauling sets out merely to fly medical supplies into Cuba. He gets involved with medical shenanigans and the murder of a former U. S. senator bent on brokering out the sale of the results of Cuban drug research to German pharmaceutical interests.

Her plots are as finely tuned as those of Agatha Christie. Her style is comfortable and pleasant. I don't mean boring, but for bedtime reading Margaret Truman tends not to produce the nightmares associated with the gruesome autopsies of a Patricia Cornwell.

We shall miss her gentle additions to our mystery collections.

[Mary Margaret Truman Daniel, February 17, 1924 - January 29, 2008]

Tom Chaney can be found telling stories, planning his next meal, and occasionally selling books at
Box 73 / 111 Water Street
Horse Cave, Kentucky 42749
Email: Tom Chaney

This story was posted on 2013-04-07 00:43:04
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