Would you think it was weird if you saw someone dressed as an Iraqi general pushing a shopping cart at your local Safeway? How about the same man walking early most mornings down Wisconsin Avenue, smoking a cigar and swinging a riding crop? Something might seem not quite right, a little out of place, to most Americans. But not to some of Washington's celebrated elites, who regularly dined at the Georgetown residence of this character, Albrecht Muth, and his dowager wife, Viola Drath, 42 years his senior. Ms. Drath was murdered last year; Mr. Muth was arrested, but so far has been ruled incompetent to stand trial.

Maybe the recent heat has muddled my mind, but the Drath saga, so well chronicled by Franklin Foer, strikes me as a Washington, D.C., version of “The Great Gatsby.” It contains a shady character who has obtained his pseudo-prominence through mysterious and nefarious means, and an audience of admirers, drawn to him by their restless search for status. In “Gatsby,” the object of desire was money; in Washington's version it was, and is, information. To be in the loop is the highest aspiration for some elites in Washington. The truth can sometimes fall victim to the overwhelming need to know.

Almost nothing about Albrecht was true; most of what was known was prima facie false or taken from widely available news sources; certain facts about him, such as arrests for spousal abuse, could have been easily known if some of his guests, with high security clearances, had bothered to check.

Some soured on Albrecht and stopped coming to his salon dinners, but many, from the White House, the media, the Supreme Court and the diplomatic corps continued to enjoy dinners in his crowded Georgetown basement. Like Jay Gatsby’s, Albrecht's life was built on lies sustained by people willing, even desperate, to believe. In the “Gatsby” version of this mutual delusion, we end up today with financial Ponzi schemes and lost financial futures; in the Washington version, we can end up in wars and ruined political futures.