The Literary Hill

August 2018


Risky Business
Christopher Datta has written some killer fiction. He has also had a long and distinguished diplomatic career. In his new memoir, “Guardians of the Grail: A Life of Diplomacy on the Edge,” he reveals that his real-life escapades have sometimes rivaled his fictional adventures.

As a civil conflict specialist with the US State Department, Datta was often called into some of the most troubled spots in the Mideast and Africa, where his diplomatic skills were put to the test under trying, sometimes life-threatening, circumstances.

He intervened between warring factions in Liberia, where he had to “dance with the devil” in the form of that country’s corrupt president. He is still haunted by seeing “things you can never un-see” when he reopened the Rwandan embassy following the horrific genocide there. In South Sudan, he tried to broker a deal between the two Sudans, but was thwarted by tribal loyalties and leaders bent on a “foolish and self-serving quest for political power and ambition.”

Time and again, he came up against “the homicidal lunatic category of leadership” and the evils it wrought. He was also repeatedly frustrated by bureaucratic folly, such as the US government’s belief that elections can solve the problems of a culture where democratic foundations do not exist.

Chris Datta retired in 2012 and, in “Guardians of the Grail,” he looks back on his eventful career, sharing anecdotes, providing concise histories of the countries in which he served, and using his clear and distinctive voice to impart his observations on human nature, politics, development work, and foreign policy.

But he has an even larger goal: to pay homage to the Foreign Service Officers in embassies around the world who risk their lives daily in service to their country. “I want readers to come away with a better understanding of… how much American diplomacy has done to make the world a better place, and where and how we have succeeded and, yes, how we have failed.” It is a worthy aim and one that is more than fulfilled by this rich and compassionate memoir.

Christopher Datta is also the author of two Civil War novels (“Touched With Fire” and “Fire & Dust”) and a supernatural thriller (“The Demon Stone”). Find him on Facebook @ChristopherDattaAuthor.

Prepare for chills in Quintin Peterson’s latest horror story, “Hope to Die,” part of an illustrated anthology called “Signed in Blood.” Photo by Bruce Guthrie.

The Devil in Her
Quintin Peterson’s latest story is so good it appears in two publications: a British horror magazine called Sanitarium and an anthology titled “Signed in Blood: Deals with the Devil Gone Bad” (R. Allen Leider, editor), where his work joins that of such heavyweights as Mickey Spillane.

“Hope to Die” focuses on a medical examiner named Thomas Sarafian who has decided to exact revenge on his cheating ex-wife. Dressed to kill on a rainy night, with “the collar of his soggy London Fog trench coat pulled up like Robert Mitchum’s in ‘Out of the Past,’ the brim of his soaking wet brown fedora snapped down over one eye like, like Bogart,” Sarafian beards the lioness in her seven-bedroom den, “the one she usurped from her current husband.”

“Vicki was the devil,” he thinks. “And it was high time that Thomas Sarafian sent her back to hell.” All goes as planned. “[He] laughed loudly long and hard. For the first time in his entire miserable life, he was happy.” Unfortunately, as he learns, the devil is not so easy to kill.

Packed with creepy details and loaded with suspense, “Hope to Die” will keep you turning the pages all the way up to the shape-shifting twist at the end—which I wouldn’t reveal even if you held a butcher knife to my throat.

Quintin Peterson is former DC police officer who has contributed crime fiction to eight anthologies, including “DC Noir,” edited by George Pelecanos, and has written four novels, including two set at the Folger Shakespeare Library where he worked as a security officer. Find more at

Kit Marshall calls on all her sleuthing skills when a lobbyist falls from a rooftop in Colleen Shogan’s latest Washington Whodunit mystery. Photo by Bruce Guthrie.

Poirot on the Potomac
“No offense, Kit,” says one of the characters in Kit Marshall’s latest Capitol Hill crime adventure, “[but] you’re no Hercule Poirot.” “Exactement!” exclaims the staffer-cum-sleuth, before cleverly tying up all the loose ends in a denouement worthy of the mustachioed Belgian detective.

In “K Street Killing,” mystery author Colleen Shogan has picked the perfect victim: a lobbyist. When he falls (or was pushed?) to his death from the rooftop of a Capitol Hill restaurant during a fundraiser for Kit’s boss, she is pressed into amateur detective mode. How can the congresswoman she works for win re-election with a potential scandal hanging over her head? Not to mention that, as one lawmaker observes, Kit’s own career is “on life support until this matter is resolved.”

Fortunately, suspects abound, including the lobbyist’s straying wife, advocates for competing interests, and a mysterious waiter whom nobody can locate. Kit’s little gray cells are put to the test, with the help of her new husband, Doug, her best friend and colleague Meg, her former co-worker Trevor—and the skeptical cooperation of DC Police Detective Maggie Glass.

In the midst of it all, Doug gets an offer of a job in New York, threatening Kit’s attachment to “the hamster wheel called Capitol Hill,” but even domestic entanglements can’t deflect her attention when she’s on the trail of a killer. To someone who has mastered that uniquely Washington skill of bobbling two cell phones and a glass of wine without spilling a drop, solving a murder is practically child’s play.

Colleen Shogan is a senior executive at the Library of Congress and teaches American politics at Georgetown University. She is the author of three prior books in the “Washington Whodunit” series: “Stabbing in the Senate,” Homicide in the House,” and “Calamity at the Continental Club.” Connect with her at

On the Hill in August
East City Bookshop has a full schedule of book clubs and readings throughout the month. For a listing, go to