Culturephile: Capitol Crimes

Laguna Beach author Kaira Rouda draws on her time in Washington, D.C., as a political spouse for her newest thriller, “The Widow.”
Photograph by Emily J. Davis

Just in time for a diversion from the general election, the USA Today bestselling novelist tells the twisty tale of a devious D.C. denizen. Jody Asher is the wife of a long-serving congressman who succeeds him when he dies suddenly in office in a tradition known as the Widow’s Mandate. Rouda, whose prose has been dubbed “the guiltiest of guilty pleasures” by Kirkus Reviews, is the spouse of Harley Rouda, who served in the U.S. House of Representatives from 2019 to 2021.

What personal experiences did you draw on to portray Washington, D.C., in the novel?

Definitely some of the settings in the book—I fell in love with the Library of Congress and was training to be a docent so I could show people around. The book opens with a Congressional Dialogues dinner, and we got to go to those. It’s a bipartisan gathering, and you learn about an important event, usually tied to a book. Behind the scenes, there’s a lot of jockeying—who’s at the head table, who’s facing the right way toward the stage, who’s sitting with whom, all that stuff is still going on even though you would look at these people and think they’re all powerful. 

The main character, Jody, is relentless, scheming, and back-stabbing. What admirable qualities did you find in her?

What I see in Jody is, even though she might be all those things, she’s also a survivor. She’s been standing by Martin, helping him for 30 years in Congress. She’s the best mom that she knows how to be. She’s been volunteering; she’s one of the people who has made D.C. run for all of these terms that Martin has served in office. She really has been a good partner. She’s been a model spouse. She’s been quiet until she can’t take it anymore. When you meet her, she may be tired of taking a back seat.

What are your lasting impressions from your time as a political spouse?

When I saw politicians who are really making a difference and bringing people together and not dividing them, that was nice to see. There are some really great parts of it. We got to travel to Selma with John Lewis on his last trip to walk across the Edmund Pettus Bridge. Meaningful, deep, historic things that we got to learn about and see and do—that part was amazing. Just knowing that you are a little part of history. On the flip side, there’s all that hate and people giving me one-star reviews on my books when I can tell it’s political. (Laugh)

This is your ninth novel. Can you talk about the trajectory of your writing career?

I started out in women’s fiction; I hate that term—I think of it as contemporary fiction. Then I took a two-year turn into romance, which was fun, but then I realized I’m not a romance writer. The whole sex thing, I can’t do it. You have to know how to write that part, and I cannot write that part. But every type of writing, you learn. So that was good learning. I was getting back to women’s fiction, and my book, “The Goodbye Year” (2016), started turning darker. I started finding myself dipping into this genre, but when the character Paul in “Best Day Ever” (2017) popped into my head, that’s when I took the leap into domestic suspense or psychological suspense.

See Her!

Kaira Rouda will sign books at The Laguna Art Museum on Dec. 1 from 5 to 7 p.m.