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Telling Tales and Raising Eyebrows


Catherine Reynolds in 2005. (Robert A. Reeder/The Washington Post)





Jane Stanton Hitchcock (Len DePas/HarperCollins)

Note to Washington hostesses: Don't invite author Jane Stanton Hitchcock and student-loan magnate Catherine Reynolds to the same dinner party.
Hitchcock, who grew up among New York's bluebloods, writes best-selling murder mysteries about the very rich. Her new book, "Mortal Friends," is set in social Washington -- the old- and new-money scions who populate the charity, arts and cultural circuit. Advance copies of the novel, released next week, are already floating around town; socialites are guessing who's who -- the fictional counterparts of Jim Kimsey, Ann Jordan and Rima Al-Sabah are easy to spot.


(Christine Van Bree/HarperCollins)

But there's been little debate about who inspired one of the central characters: "Cynthia Rinehart" is a self-made former accountant who gives $100 million to the Kennedy Center, millions to other charities and quickly takes the city by storm. She's a social climber who courts the famous, reneges on pledges, has an affair with a married banker and doesn't seem to care what the Old Guard thinks of her. Rinehart's character boasts to a reporter: "I've put Washington on the philanthropic map. Before me, it was a swamp of penny-ante contributors."

Hmmmm. Reynolds is a self-made former accountant who gave $100 million to the Kennedy Center, millions to other charities and quickly became one of the most visible and controversial figures in town.

"My characters are strictly my own -- although they may bear resemblance in what they have done with people in the scene around me," said Hitchcock, who lives in Georgetown with her husband, syndicated Washington Post columnist Jim Hoagland. She said she has met Reynolds casually but that she is not targeting any specific individual -- it's the "pretensions of money" that get skewered. "Anytime I see someone who thinks their money makes them better than other people or entitled to special perks, I aim my pen."

Reynolds told us that she hasn't read the book and that she had no comment on it: "My business is to think about what I think about me, not to worry what others think about me -- especially those who don't know me."

By The Reliable Source  |  June 22, 2009; 1:03 AM ET
 
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