by: Colleen J. Shogan
Series: A Washington Whodunit
Genre: Cozy Mystery
Release Date: June 1, 2016
Publisher: Camel Press
Kit Marshall has bounced back from her first brush with the law, when she was suspected of murdering her senator boss. Now she is working for a freshman congresswoman, Maeve Dixon, a young Gulf War veteran representing North Carolina. It’s February, and Kit is feeling out of sorts. A government shutdown has just been announced, wreaking havoc on the Hill, and Dan, Dixon’s chief of staff and Kit’s supervisor, is an inexperienced lightweight flying blind. Then there’s Kit’s distracted live-in boyfriend, Doug, who doesn’t seem any closer to popping the question. Kit’s best friend Meg is up to her eyeballs with her new beau and oversight committee job, and Clarence the beagle mix will certainly not win Capitol Canine if Meg has to campaign for him all by herself.
Bad as things are now, they are about to get much worse. Early one morning Representative Dixon is caught standing over the corpse of Jack Drysdale, the Speaker of the House’s top staffer, a man she argued with in front of the press the day before. The murder weapon was the Speaker’s gavel. This item was entrusted to Dixon at the time, leading the police to believe they’ve found their killer. To save her job, Kit must clear her boss’s name, and quickly. Dixon’s career may be over if the police declare her a suspect or an anonymous blogger known as Hill Rat breaks the story. Solving this murder will test Kit’s courage and all her fledgling powers of deduction as she roams a spooky, sparsely populated Capitol Hill looking for clues and sounding out suspects.
Smartphones are great time wasters. I fiddled with various apps as I waited. The next level of “Angry Birds” was within my grasp when I heard footsteps and voices across the hallway. I got up and stood in the doorway to greet my boss.
From the look on her face, she was not pleased. She charged like a linebacker to the exit of the Speaker’s lair with Jack Drysdale on her heels.
“Stop, Congresswoman Dixon. You’re not listening to reason!” From behind, Drysdale placed his hand on Maeve’s left shoulder in an attempt to prevent her from leaving the suite.
Maeve had impressive reflexes. She turned her body toward him and grabbed his wrist with her right hand. “Don’t touch me! Is this how the Speaker’s staff treat members of the House?” Her voice was loud and filled with vitriol.
The gaggle of reporters who had been relaxing inside the anteroom trailed behind me. This was better than a boring pen and pad session. One of them murmured, “I think that’s Dixon from North Carolina.”
This was not a good development, but Maeve didn’t know that the press had a front row seat to her implosion.
Maeve clutched Drysdale’s wrist for several seconds until she let it go. Apparently her physical assault didn’t intimidate him. He ran ahead and stopped directly in front of her.
Stretching his arms out wide to slow her down, Jack made his last stand. “I apologize. I shouldn’t have done that. Please come back in the office so we can sort this out. You’re a valuable part of this caucus and the Speaker wants to work with you on this deal.”
Maeve shook her head. “You guys in House leadership are typical politicians. You can’t take no for an answer. I’m not ready to make a decision. Now get out of my way.”
Unmoving, Drysdale locked eyes with Maeve. She didn’t look away and squared her shoulders. I could almost feel the tension around me as the reporters anxiously waited for the outcome. What was Maeve going to do? Knee him in the groin if he didn’t back down?
After a moment that seemed like an eternity, Drysdale gave in and stepped aside. I breathed a deep sigh of relief and hurried into the hallway to catch up with her. As we exited the corridor, I glanced back to the doorway where I’d been standing. Every reporter was on his or her phone, ostensibly calling in the most salacious story of the shutdown thus far. A junior member of Congress and the Speaker’s top aide had nearly come to blows in the Capitol. A high school reporter could make that story fly.
Kit Marshall – Staffer and Sleuth Revealed
The heroine of the Washington Whodunit mystery series is a thirty-something congressional staffer named Kit Marshall. Who is she and what makes her tick?
I’m not a big fan of backstory in novels, particularly mysteries. Mystery readers want to find out whodunit. Serial readers want the characters to develop and grow in interesting and realistic ways. I try to focus as much as possible on the action unfolding rather than giving away a lot of details about Kit’s history or past.
We do know that Kit worked on a congressional campaign, which led her to her first job in Washington with Senator Lyndon Langsford. Her parents, who are retired and like to travel the country visiting vineyards and sipping wine, don’t play a huge part in the novels (at least not yet). Kit’s longtime boyfriend, Doug Hollingsworth, is a newly tenured history professor at Georgetown. Doug’s family is quite wealthy and he receives supplemental income from a trust fund. Kit benefits indirectly from his wealth; they live together in a nice condo in the affluent suburb of Arlington. Kit also loves dogs and adores her beagle mutt Clarence, who she adopted from a rescue.
We also find out in the novels that Kit likes mysteries. She reads mystery novels and watches mystery movies on television. When murders present themselves, it makes sense that she’s eager to solve them.
However, Kit doesn’t engage in amateur sleuthing simply to solve the crime. There’s always a motivation for her snooping. In Stabbing in the Senate, Kit had to figure out who killed Senator Langsford because the police quickly labeled her the prime suspect. In Homicide in the House, the member of Congress Kit now works for is accused of killing the Speaker of the House’s top staffer. Kit’s direct supervisor, an otherwise inept buffoon, charges Kit with finding the killer - or finding another job. In the third book of the series, which I’m currently finishing, Kit must clear Doug’s father of suspicion when a wealthy rival philanthropist is poisoned at a prominent Washington, D.C. social club.
I feel strongly that Kit needs a rationale for why she’s willing to invest so much time in solving these crimes. After all, she’s a busy congressional staffer trying to climb the career ladder. If she’s going to spend time sleuthing, there needs to be some skin in the game for her. The motivation for her actions is an important part of the storylines I construct.
In each book, we learn a little more about Kit Marshall and what makes her tick. Her character will develop slowly and deliberately. After all, fans of the series need a reason to buy the next Washington Whodunit installment!
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Colleen J. Shogan has been reading mysteries since the age of six. She writes the Washington Whodunit series published by Camel Press. A political scientist by training, Colleen has taught American politics at Yale, George Mason University, Georgetown, and Penn. She previously worked on Capitol Hill as a legislative staffer in the United States Senate and as the Deputy Director of the Congressional Research Service. She is currently a senior executive at the Library of Congress. Colleen lives in Arlington, Virginia with her husband Rob and their beagle mutt Conan.
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