- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 20, 2005

“This party is for the other woman in my life,” British Ambassador Sir David Manning jokingly confessed to guests Sunday at a crowded reception in his wife’s honor.

No eyebrows went up. Brit wit, after all, is to be expected in the grand mansion on Massachusetts Avenue NW where some 300 nearest and dearest had been invited to celebrate publication for the first time in the United States of “Death in the Garden” by Lady (Catherine) Manning, aka Elizabeth Ironside.

It was the first time for any of the writer’s books to reach American shores and the first time in anyone’s memory that a book by either a resident ambassador or his wife had been so honored. Legions of Democratic and Republican A-listers turned out, including Massachusetts Avenue neighbors Vice President Dick Cheney and Lynne Cheney, Undersecretary of State Karen Hughes, Justice Sandra Day O’Connor and a slew of media headliners.

“I’m absolutely gobsmacked at the number of people here,” was the justifiable reaction of New York publisher Maggie Topkis, whose four-month-old publishing house, Felony & Mayhem, had reached out to the author without knowing her status in diplomatic circles.

“This is trick-or-treating early,” said Ken Duberstein, the political consultant who was chief of staff in the Reagan White House. “It’s all in the neighborhood.”

Back home in England, the pseudonym of the ambassador’s wife — the maiden name of Mrs. Manning’s mother — marks her as an accomplished mystery writer in the best British tradition. Think P.D. James, Agatha Christie, Caroline Graham and, yes, Elizabeth Ironside, runner-up in 1995 for that country’s prestigious Golden Dagger award, the equivalent in the genre of an Oscar.

Her first book, “A Very Private Enterprise,” about a murder in India’s diplomatic community, was named Best First Mystery of the Year by England’s Crime Writers Association.

Mr. Manning took over receiving-line duties while his wife autographed book copies being sold by Politics & Prose in the opposite corner of the room. Later, he mused aloud about how the couple previously had served in India and Russia, among other postings that became settings for his wife’s other works. He said he felt some relief that “this time it is not the body of a diplomat but a member of Parliament” that turns up in her pages.

The real mystery of the moment in Washington’s diplomatic community: Who is on the list invited to meet Prince Charles and Camilla (aka the Duchess of Cornwall) when

the royals arrive in Washington in 10 days?

Ann Geracimos

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