the real-life drama of Capitol Hill in fiction can be a
daunting task, but Colleen Shogan had an advantage: Sheís
been there, done that.
40, now the deputy director of the Congressional
Research Service, used her time as a Senate staffer as
the basis of her debut mystery novel, "Stabbing in
the Senate," the first installment in her
"Washington Whodunit" series.
always been a big mystery reader," Shogan said in a
Nov. 13 phone interview. In 2011, after she finished
reading a mystery novel, she was walking around her
Arlington, Va., neighborhood and started thinking about
what her own mystery novel would be like, and thought of
a mystery focused on Congress.
smart to write about something you know about,"
Shogan said, explaining her decision to set her novel on
novel begins with a murder in the Hart Senate Office
Building. Kit Marshall, a promising Hill staffer,
discovers the body of her boss, Massachusetts Sen.
Lyndon Langsford, one morning after he was fatally
stabbed by a small-scale replica of an Army helicopter.
quickly becomes the prime suspect, and ó an avid
mystery novel-reader herself ó sets out to solve the
crime and clear her name.
with their affinity for mystery novels, Shogan said she
shares other characteristics with Kit, which she said
was a natural development when writing in first person.
But, Kit is more timid and unsure of herself, and still
trying to figure out where she fits in on Capitol Hill.
lot of things arenít settled with her," Shogan
said. "I remember going through that. Ö Thatís
not where I am now."
Kitís task to navigate relationships and office
politics will likely be familiar to many Hill staffers
ó minus the whole investigating your bossís murder
Hill landmarks are also pervasive throughout the book,
from the staffer watering hole, the 201 Bar, to the
Dirksen cafe and the Senate Subway tunnel, which serves
as the setting for the climactic scene.
walked that subway tunnel probably five times as I was
writing that scene," Shogan said. She focused on
accurate details, to make the scenes as realistic as
possible and would often walk around Capitol Hill before
and after work, and during her lunch break.
been a great advantage of writing something where youíre
actually working or where you have access to,"
from the scenes, the cast of characters around Kitís
Capitol Hill will also sound a bit familiar, from the
trustworthy and social butterfly best friend Meg and
hardworking legislative director Matt, to the overly
ambitious press secretary, Mandy.
also makes use of other D.C. stereotypes in the novel,
including its designation as "Hollywood for ugly
people," and writing that, "The whole city was
full of opportunists."
didnít want to write a book that was totally over the
top, that was a negative portrayal of D.C.," Shogan
said. She later added, "This is really trying to
provide an alternate viewpoint that the people that come
to work in D.C. mostly have the best intentions."
the emphasis on congressional staff, who Shogan said are
often underpaid and under-appreciated, rather than
politicians themselves. She even thanked congressional
staff in her novelís acknowledgments for providing her
with "great memories and terrific stories to
hope that (readers) take away from the fact that being a
congressional staffer is a difficult job," Shogan
said. "There are a lot of pressures on
congressional staff to do the job and do the job
spent three years a staffer for Sen. Joseph I.
Lieberman, I-Conn., though she has been in D.C. for
roughly 13 years. She first came to the District to
teach at George Mason University, and landed a Senate
fellowship through the American Political Science
really caught Capitol Hill fever," Shogan said.
"I love the lack of predictability about the job.
Itís just fun to me."
now she finds herself in a top job at the CRS, which
conducts nonpartisan research for lawmakers. But she
still draws on her Hill experience for her writing, and
has already finished her second novel in the
"Washington Whodunit" series: "Homicide
in the House," which is expected to be published in