Obituaries

Book Author and Former Newsweek Reporter

A freelance assignment in Iraq led Malcolm MacPherson to write
A freelance assignment in Iraq led Malcolm MacPherson to write "Hocus Potus," a comic novel. (©Jill Krementz)
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By Adam Bernstein
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, January 23, 2009

Malcolm MacPherson, 65, a former Newsweek reporter who wrote a dozen books, including a fictional satire of the Iraq war and a nonfiction account of the search for a Nazi collaborator during World War II, died Jan. 17 at a friend's home in Chevy Chase after a heart attack.

He was attending a pre-inauguration party for President-elect Barack Obama, for whom he had volunteered in his home town of Warrenton.

Mr. MacPherson, a former Marine Corps reservist, spent a decade at Newsweek as a domestic and foreign correspondent before leaving the magazine in 1978 to dedicate himself to writing books.

A freelance assignment for Time magazine in 2003 covering the U.S. occupation and reconstruction of Baghdad after the invasion of Iraq informed his comic novel "Hocus Potus" (2007). POTUS is an acronym for President of the United States.

Mr. MacPherson told the Boston Globe that the book came easily after he witnessed so much ineptness among the Americans in Iraq -- including the jailing of an aged soccer hero on terrorist charges -- and "thought I would answer farce with farce, fiction with fiction."

Freelance journalist Anna Mundow, writing in the Globe, called the book "an irresistible portrait of greed and incompetence run amok."

Mr. MacPherson's best-known early book was "The Blood of His Servants" (1984), a nonfiction story about Israeli journalist Lieber "Bibi" Krumholz and his quest for justice involving the man who had killed his family in Poland during World War II.

"The Blood of His Servants" received mixed reviews. But writing in the New York Times, Rinna Samuel of the Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel called the story a "bona fide thriller . . . informed by modestly stated but impressive insight into the every nature of man at his best and at his worst."

Mr. MacPherson's other books included "Protégé" (1980), a novel about former Nazis who try to take over the African country of Tanzania; "Time Bomb" (1986), a history of the race for the atom bomb; "The Cowboy and His Elephant" (2001), a true story about a sick baby elephant adopted by a Colorado rancher; and "Roberts Ridge" (2005), a nonfiction account of combat in Afghanistan.

He also was editor of "The Black Box: Cockpit Voice Recorder Accounts of Nineteen In-Flight Accidents," first published in 1984 and later updated.

Malcolm Cook MacPherson was born Aug. 23, 1943, in Bridgeport, Conn., and raised in Garden Grove, Calif. His home, near orange groves, was the setting of his 1994 novel "In Cahoots," about a real estate scam.

When he was 11, he was injured in a car accident that killed his parents, and he returned to Connecticut to be raised by an aunt and uncle. He developed an interest in journalism while on a high school summer program in New Delhi and interviewed Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru.

He graduated from Trinity College in Hartford in 1965 and entered the Marine Corps Reserve, in which he served six years. During this period, he worked for a succession of magazines. He lost a trainee job at Time after throwing a bloody mary in an editor's face during a holiday party.

He joined Newsweek as a national correspondent in 1968 and began working overseas in 1973 in Africa and Europe. He covered conflict in Ireland, the Middle East and on the Mediterranean island of Cyprus as well as the 1974 "Rumble in the Jungle" boxing match between Muhammad Ali and George Foreman in what was then Zaire.

Survivors include his wife of 20 years, Charlie Erkenbeck MacPherson, and two children, Molly MacPherson and Fraser MacPherson, all of Warrenton; and two sisters, Claudette Mitchell of Stuart, Fla., and Nantucket, Mass., and Mary Ann Sittnick of Fairfax City.


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