The Literary Hill

A federal worker with kinky tastes is recruited as a spy in Scott Sowers’s new thriller-with-a-heart.

Roped into Spying
Rex Armstrong is just your typical government drone. He’s got a condo he can barely afford and “an ex-wife causing me grief with the IRS.” He works “for the Feds doing media stuff,” drinks too much, and hangs out with his smart-mouthed, pretty neighbor Lucy. Oh, and on the weekends, he likes to go to fetish bars and indulge in a little friendly domination and whipping.

It’s all part of the kinky fun in Scott Sowers’s new novel, “Spycraft and the Lash.” But things take a different twist when Rex is approached by Marcus Wellborn, an “overly formal, fedora-wearing fuddy-duddy,” who wants to engage him as a spy. Armstrong is dubious. “I know it sounds far-fetched, Rex,” his recruiter assures him, “but this is Washington, after all. We have a long history of intrigue and subterfuge.”

Lured by the promise of cash—which will help keep the IRS at bay—Rex signs on. Soon he’s up to his leather-clad shoulders in a serpentine plot involving a theft from the Metro’s “money train” and military generals intent on selling drone technology to the French.

Then one of his sex-club playmates is found dead and Rex becomes the prime suspect. As his life spirals out of control, his only recourse becomes finding the real killer. With Lucy as his willing accomplice, he trails suspects from rooftop cocktail parties to subterranean sex bars. He even convinces his comely neighbor to accompany him to a bondage workshop, where she ends up naked and suspended from the ceiling by ropes.

Finally, when Wellborn asks him to attend a “heavy-duty S and M” party, Rex lets loose with his doubts about the whole endeavor. “You know what? This is really over the line. I don’t know who you actually are, who you work for or what. You’re just some guy who turns up for lunch with a suit that matches his hat… This is not serving my country. This is the kind of stuff that’s wrong with my country.”

So how will Rex get out from under the cloud of suspicion? Will he ever learn what’s

up with Wellborn and the Metro and the generals? Will he figure out how he feels about Lucy? Be advised that in “Spycraft and the Lash”—as in the nation’s capital—all is not as it seems.

Scott Sowers is a DC-based freelance writer whose nonfiction work has appeared in The Washington Post, The Atlantic and The New York Times. He is the also the author of the 2015 mystery “Life and Death at the Dog Park.”

A budding lawyer and her friends give their community a gift of kindness in J.N. Childress’s “Juris P. Prudence’s Holiday Gift.”

The Spirit of Giving
It’s the day before school break and Juris P. Prudence is eagerly awaiting Christmas—but not everybody seems to be feeling the holiday spirit. On her Metro bus, a woman calls someone she disagrees with “stupid,” a lady in a hurry orders Juris out of her way, and at school, a student refuses to let the “new kid” sit with him at lunch. What’s an eleven-year-old lawyer to do?

A teacher’s assignment provides the answer. She charges Juris and her classmates, who are studying contract law, with finding a way to use contracts to help people. “Oh my, honey!” exclaims her grandmother when Juris explains her mission. “That’s a big task.” But if anyone is up to the challenge, it’s Juris. From reading her textbook, she learns that a contract is just a promise. So, she thinks, “what if contracts could be used to create promises between people to be nice to one another?”

In “Juris P. Prudence’s Holiday Gift,” author J.N. Childress shows how Juris and her friends use both their knowledge of the law and their big hearts to change the behavior of the people around them and, in so doing, deliver a seasonal message of kindness that is evergreen.

Kids interested in following Juris’s good example can find kid-friendly guidance in a companion workbook, “Juris P. Prudence’s Kindness Contracts,” which contains contracts encouraging signers to be nice, volunteer in their communities, respect others, and more.

Jessica Childress is a DC attorney whose first book, “The Briefcase of Juris P. Prudence,” provided the springboard for the Juris Prudence Kids Mock Trial Academy, a DC-based legal educational program for kids ages 8-12. Learn more at

Author Kim Roberts brings her “Literary Guide to DC” to life with a Smithsonian Associates lecture on Nov. 15 and tours on Nov. 16 or 17. Author photo by John Gann.

On the Town
Washington is a city of writers. And no one knows that better than historian, writer, poet, and editor Kim Roberts, whose book, “A Literary Guide to Washington, D.C.,” pays homage to the many acclaimed authors—including Walt Whitman, Zora Neale Hurston, Henry Adams, and Langston Hughes—who have called the nation’s capital home. Join Roberts for a Smithsonian Associates talk on DC’s lively literary history, Nov. 15, 6:45 p.m., or take a walking tour of LeDroit Park and the Shaw neighborhood focusing on writers Paul Laurence Dunbar and his wife Alice Moore Dunbar-Nelson, Nov. 16 or 17, 10 a.m. to noon.

Also this month, local historian Garrett Peck, author of “Capital Beer: A Heady History of Brewing in Washington, D.C.,” leads a tour of Old Town called “Alexandria: Where DC’s Breweries Began,” followed by an optional happy hour. Nov. 17, 10 a.m., Nov. 18, 1:30 p.m., or Nov. 24, 10 a.m. or 202-633-3030.

On the Hill in November
East City Bookshop
’s schedule of book clubs and readings too full for listing here, but you can check it out at

The Folger Shakespeare Library’s O.B. Hardison Poetry Series celebrates the late Anthony Hecht with a reading by Sir Andrew Motion and Christopher Cessac, Nov. 5, 7:30 p.m. or 202-544-7077.

The Hill Center presents an Overbeck Lecture by J. Samuel Walker, author of “Most of 14th Street is Gone: The Washington, DC Riots of 1968,” Nov. 5, 7 p.m. Call 202-549-4172 or register online at

Solid State Books offers a full calendar of readings, story times, seminars, and discussions throughout the month. See