Nancy: “The Findings” (novel excerpt; political thriller)

AUTHOR:  Nancy

TITLE:  “The Findings”

GENRE: Political thriller

SYNOPSIS:  Hamilton Langley uncovers  illicit arms trading at the American Embassy in the Congo and leads his dysfunctional team of government analysts into a jungle of danger and intrigue.

ISSUE:  Are the conflicts/set-up in my new opening engaging enough to keep people reading to page 30 for the inciting moment?  Two people I trust said—start your story earlier;  I need to know more about the team and the job. That advice-taken delayed my inciting moment—when the team finally visits the dam site and is attacked by the Shandundu tribe because of an Embassy cover-up.

The Findings

a novel (partial by Nancy

Part 1: Assignment: Zaire

September, 1988. Hamilton Langley, standing at the entrance of a dingy, third world departure hall, needed to make damn sure his evidence got on the plane that night. He had thirty minutes.

            But a scrum of passengers was surging on the check-in counter. The men towered over his six feet, and the women, solid like medicine balls, collided with everyone. He knew he could not get to the ticket agent without suffocating in the mayhem. His navy pinstriped suit and red power tie, knotted into a full Windsor with a perfect dimple, did not impress upon the mob the importance of his mission. They paid him no mind, focusing on their own ends, which created a deafening cacophony of dialects throughout the hall. Hamilton could neither see nor hear which way to go.

His heart pounded and sweat trickled from his pores. His keen blue eyes darted in every direction seeking an alternate route to the front. And then he spied his opening: a narrow breach between two grimy white pillars. Thank God he was now a lean man. He rushed over, lunged sideways, and stuck his brief case through the gap. Then he slipped his body in, but halfway through his hips wedged tight. He was stuck. “Help!” he shouted, but no one would.

            He unbuttoned his suit coat and tried to remove it to give him wiggle room. It wouldn’t budge. “Shit!” he said and then bellowed out a loud, primordial scream that reverberated through the hall and caused his fellow travelers to stop and turn. The din abated as a pack of curious onlookers edged toward him. Their dark menacing eyes stared at his pasty blondness. Through gaps in the crowd there slithered brown women wrapped in scarlet wax-print cloth. These pagnes were wound around each voluptuous figure, crisscrossed over the bosom, and tied behind the neck, the shoulders left bare.

Long, naked arms undulated closer and closer. He felt hands grab his limbs, and a tug of war pulled him parallel to the ground. His spine stretched an inch.

Softer hands swept like whisk brooms across his body. They whisked and whisked until his shirt, coat, and tie peeled off over his head, until his trouser legs shredded and hung like long fringe from a loin cloth, until hot breath stimulated his exposed skin. But no one could pull him through to the warmth of her desire, and so the women in red abandoned their quest. Their arms fluttered to their sides, their bodies slowly lifted off the floor, and they floated backwards to be reabsorbed into the crowd.             The passengers turned and rushed to their departure gates, each one pushing to get there first. Hamilton was left alone, still suspended horizontally between the two posts, like two fat fingers pinching a Virginia Slim, half-smoked.

            His hands flailed in the empty air, searching for the brief case. It was gone! And with it his reputation. And his career. His heart seized in his chest. His boss would be furious, his family so let down. He couldn’t give up. Not yet. “Help!” he bellowed again, loudly enough to rouse himself from sleep.

“Geez,” he exclaimed as he sprang from a soggy sheet pooled in sweat. “I’m in Zaire for one night and already obsessed with my departure. There’s no way I’ll ever let strangers get their hands on my findings.”

Hamilton’s dreams had never wrestled him to the mattress like this before, until his team was assigned to Africa and convinced to test a new malaria prophylaxis. The medication, called mefloquine, came with myriad side effects, which he and his team were supposed to document.

He walked to the window, opened his curtain and lifted his face to the tropical lemon sun. It must be close to noon he thought as he closed his eyes and basked in the heat until it was abruptly cut off  by an inconsiderate cloud. He turned to his as yet unpacked suitcase and pulled out the clip board with the mefloquine journal. Entries #1-3 had already been filled out before leaving Frankfurt. They all read nightmare: violent. Today he wrote 9/4/88–nightmare: erotic, paranoid, but refused to add the rest of the embarrassing details.

A ruffling by the door drew his attention to a square white envelop slipped underneath. It bore a message from the embassy. He had to call his team. He searched the room for dialing instructions but then realized he didn’t even have a phone.

Hamilton knew youngest member of his team, Karen Johnson, was down the hall, so he went there first.

“Who is it?” called Karen from behind a locked door.

“It’s Hamilton. I have some information.” She opened the door and he was mesmerized. How attractive she appeared, her cool latte skin against the fluffy white hotel robe. He apologized for not phoning, explaining the incredible fact that it was impossible, but she didn’t look concerned. Raised an army brat, she would have fewer adjustment issues than would the rest of the team.

He stood silently until she finished reading. “Do you know what rooms the guys are in?”

“No, but I saw them at the pool just now. Come in. I’ll show you.”

Hamilton hesitated at the door. “You sure?”

“Come on. I’m harmless. Just take a peek out the window.”

“Okay, but I’ll leave the door open so no one gets suspicious.”  From her window Hamilton saw the backs of two heads poking up above lounge chairs. The taller guy with the thick dark hair was reading the newspaper. “Look at Al sitting in the sun. I’ll bet he’s the kind of guy who goes bronze in one afternoon while I go red and then peel for a week.”

“I can’t identify,” Karen joked.

Just then the short guy leaned over into the space between the two chairs. Hamilton recognized his thick, curly, brown-grey mutton chops connected to a hairline that was rapidly receding into a cul-de-sac. “Jay should be under an umbrella. Older guys need to be more cautious about the sun.” Jay McGinn was prodding Allan with a rolled up magazine, probably Sports Illustrated.

“Looks like Jay’s telling another funny story,” said Karen.

“Yeah. Fun guy to travel with. I’m going down there.”

            “I’ll join you. Let me throw something on.” Hamilton waited in the hall until Karen emerged in a wispy aqua beach cover-up. “Wow! That’s stunning.” She smiled, and he fumbled to augment the compliment. “You look like. . .uh. . . an African Queen.”

            Her dark, professionally tweezed eyebrows squeezed together over her brown eyes. “Thanks a lot, Bogey.”


            “The African Queen’s a boat.”

            His pale complexion glowed like embers. “I guess I should do a better job of source checking.”

As they left the hotel building an oppressive humidity descended on them like an invisible rain shower and sapped the swiftness from their step. They approached the backs of the two chaise lounges where the guys sat chuckling. Jay’s rolled up magazine poked Allan at every punch line. When they came into earshot of the conversation, they overheard Allan say, “Yeah, only because Cincinnati was so desperate to off-load him. Wish I could figure out how to get booted up to GS 13 by being inept.”

            That wasn’t funny. Hamilton stopped dead.

            “I can hear it now,” replied Jay, faking a nasal twang. “We done been informed that the Midwest has one too many hicks. If we promote ya, will ya skeddale? I think Frankfurt’s far enough.”

            Hamilton leaned forward but his feet became lead. Jay’s calling me a hick? That crusty old coot.

            Karen lunged toward the guys and tapped them on the shoulders. “Now behave yourselves, boys,” she said. The two guys shot up in their seats like fifth graders nabbed for spitballing. “Like my Father always says . . .” How many times had Hamilton heard that opener in the last few weeks. Colonel Johnson must have been a perpetual advice machine. Karen leaned over to whisper, but when she straightened up Hamilton caught,

“ . . . the officer, but you have to respect his office.”      

He collected himself and let the crimson flush drain from his face. The supervisor sets the tone, he reminded himself. The supervisor sets the tone. He slowly walked around to the front of the chairs and spoke stiffly. “Good morning, gentlemen. Hope you slept well.”

“Not bad,” said Allan, who quickly turned his face toward the waiter and waved his empty beer glass for a refill.

            “Two!” shouted Jay, looking away and lifting his glass to catch the waiter’s eye.

Hamilton waited for their attention. “This invitation was under my door. It reads, Mr. Ralph W. Taylor, Chargé d’Affaires of the Embassy of the United States of America, Kinshasa, Zaire, cordially requests . . .”

            “Yeah, yeah. What’s the bottom line?” asked Allan.

            “Dinner at eight. Chargé’s house. Smart casual.”

            “So you want to party tonight with the people we’re auditing tomorrow? It’s not kosher. It’d be too difficult to remain objective, don’t ya think?”

            “I think that in a remote hardship post like this one, the Chargé’s offering to show us the ropes. I think that if we don’t show up, the embassy will make this job harder than it already is.” 

            Karen presented the upside. “Let’s view it as an opportunity to get the Chargé on our team. We do the usual meet and greet. Friendly. Low key. Let the Chargé do all the talking. We listen like he just invented cool. Then if the project managers push back about our review, we’ve already got the top brass on our side.”

            “We can’t have pushback,” said Hamilton.

            “It’s inevitable,” said Allan in a sour tone. “That’s what embassies always do.”

            Hamilton wondered if that was true. He wouldn’t know. Until now the Frankfurt office had only assigned him to small military reviews, usually inventory in nature, where he expected resistance. The military considered itself way too technical for the average civilian’s comprehension. But from the diplomatic corps he expected, well, diplomacy. “Karen’s got a point. Let’s go and make the most of it.”

            “It’s inappropriate,” said Allan. He looked toward Jay. “What do you say? You’ve been around the longest.”

            Jay put a much needed baseball cap over his glistening scalp. “I’m not going. It doesn’t seem ethical.”

            Hamilton patiently stared from one colleague to the next hoping he could make them rethink the situation, but the only thing he could assess was his own exasperated expression reflected in their sunglasses. “I know you guys wouldn’t do this in Europe. But Africa’s different. There’re going to be things we didn’t anticipate.” He waited for their intransigence to pass. It didn’t. “I’d go alone, but we need to present a united front.” He waited several more seconds. Their silence was disconcerting. “All right,” he conceded against his better judgment, “I’ll go to the front desk and figure out how to send regrets.”

Chapter 2

After the concierge sent the handwritten note to the embassy, Hamilton returned to his room, alone and defeated. He hoped a nice long shower could ease his tension. The water pressure was unexpectedly strong, but the cold spray collected in rusty brown pools on the white tile basin. He had found the same result earlier when he turned on the faucet to brush his teeth. He thought maybe he should change rooms. He couldn’t spend five weeks bathing in dirty water.

            As he waited for the hot water to kick in and the disturbing tinge to fade away, his thoughts turned to his family. Laura would never take a brown shower. This he knew for certain. Despite all the hardships he had imposed on her in the last two years—moving her to a foreign country where she couldn’t work, abandoning her and the kids for weeks at a time while he traveled—at least he had dropped her off in a place with clean water. If she saw this shower, she’d realize how good she had it in Frankfurt.

He intended to make it up to her eventually, all the lost time and inconvenience, but for now, he could only focus on his immediate goal: to earn recognition for his leadership and savvy in his first high-profile assignment, the Kawatara Dam project review. This was the first time he had a staff of four, and he was already off to a bad start. He would have to turn things around quickly if he ever expected to deliver well documented and irrefutable findings to Congress.

            The water was now acceptably warm but still the color of tea. Yet his skin was sticky from sweat, so he jumped in for a quick rinse. As he toweled off, he checked the full length mirror to see if the water had left dirty splotches on his skin.

            He donned the white terry cloth robe and noticed how his cobalt blue eyes perfectly matched the Intercontinental Hotel medallion emblazoned on the pocket. For a second he felt like a VIP, and then he imagined what his team would say.            

He wandered over to the bay window. Below him lay an Eden, dancing in vibrant color. Orange and pink bougainvillea shot up from the earth and fanned out across white perimeter walls. In the foreground the blue tiled swimming pool sparkled, cool and inviting. He considered a swim now that his teammates had gone inside.

After a late lunch and a look around the hotel, Hamilton returned to his room and found a new message.

Dear Mr. Langley,

As a courtesy, Embassy Kinshasa always supports visitors with a personal welcome to this challenging post. It is regrettable that you are not available this evening.


Regarding your request for tomorrow, the Embassy is closed in recognition of Labor Day. To make the staff come in on a holiday would diminish your ability to establish a positive working relationship. No sense turning people against you right away. I recommend you wait until Tuesday when an Embassy driver will meet you in the hotel lobby at 8:30 a.m.



            Ralph W. Taylor

            Chargé d’Affaires

Hamilton had a mind to find his team and throw this note in their faces. But what good would it do. He made the call, and he was wrong. He would have to take responsibility for irritating the Chargé d’Affaires and giving him the wrong idea about Monday. Between the jet lag and the eagerness to get started, he’d totally forgotten about the holiday weekend. As he reread the terse reply, he knew he had blown his chance to make a good first impression. Never again would he cave in to subordinates. From now on he would assert himself, especially when outnumbered.

Chapter 3

When Hamilton’s college advisor suggested an interview with the recruiter from The General Accounting Office, he had never heard of GAO. “You should watch more Sixty Minutes,” she told him. Though launched in 1921, the GAO flew under the radar of most Americans working outside Washington. Inside the Beltway, however, it was the highly respected, and sometimes feared, investigative arm of the U. S. Congress. Its four-million-dollar budget supported almost five thousand auditors who traveled worldwide to ensure government accountability. Preventing or rooting out corruption and incompetence saved the U. S. taxpayer untold millions every year.

            Yet, it wasn’t until Sixty Minutes began quoting GAO as a primary source that people paid attention. Hapless bureaucrats were no match for the highly skilled auditors, and so when reviewees received the phone call, they quaked with nervous anticipation. They imagined auditors conjuring up evidence of waste, fraud, or abuse and then shape shifting into analysts to find gross mismanagement on top of everything else.

            Perhaps this anxiety was fueled by the DC rumor mill or by the fear of being on the wrong side of a Mike Wallace investigation. But whatever the cause, the effect was the same: when either team—GAO or Sixty Minutes– knocked on the door, reviewees were reluctant to answer.

Hamilton and his GAO team had been waiting in Mr. Taylor’s small anteroom long enough to wonder if they had been given the wrong time. No sounds of work emanated from his office, and the secretary acted like they were invisible. A polite offer of coffee would have gone a long way to ease the tension.

            “Nice raffia cloth on the wall,” said Karen. “I never thought of framing small pieces like that, but it seems to work.”

The men weren’t interested in her decorating tips. Hamilton was immersed in his thoughts. When he wasn’t rehearsing his apology for Sunday evening, he was replaying the ride in, which took the team through a quiet residential area. It was strange and rather sad that all family homes cowered behind high walls topped with broken bottle glass for security. When the whitewash on those walls wasn’t marred by dirty hand prints, it was streaked with urine from passersby. Homeowners who posted signs warning Défense d’uriner (Do not urinate here) had more yellow streaks than anyone else. So it wasn’t just his team that had authority issues.

            Eventually, footsteps on hardwood grew louder as someone was slowly ascending to the third floor of the American Embassy chancery.

            “Good morning,” said a smiling Mr. Taylor, as he emerged from the staircase. “I trust you had a pleasant weekend at the hotel.” The tall, middle-aged gentleman looked like a diplomat from central casting. His thinning brown hair revealed just a hint of gray at the temples, and his meticulous wardrobe was crisply starched and freshly pressed. After shaking hands, he invited the team into his office and directed them toward a comfortable seating area around a glass coffee table. He stowed his brief case, looked out the window, and scanned the handwritten messages on his large mahogany desk. Meanwhile the auditors admired his collection of drums, masks, and other African artifacts carefully arranged throughout.

 He then nestled into a large leather arm chair and crossed his left knee over his right as the secretary delivered a black coffee on cue. “Merci, Annette. Would anyone else like coffee?” He looked at the group, but everyone declined as they were ready to get on with business. As the secretary turned to leave, he asked her to bring filtered water. With an easy, confident manner he commanded the room and got everyone talking. Friendly, low key. There was no hint of the curtness in Sunday’s message, so Hamilton wasn’t sure if he had misread it, or if Mr. Taylor was just a darn good diplomat. In any case, there was no opening for his apology, so he let it go.

            Karen prompted the Chargé. “Judging by your collections, I’d say you’ve seen your share of interesting cultures.”

            “I’ve always loved drumming, so Africa was the right posting for me. When I was in the Peace Corps in Ghana, I studied Djembe drums in the village. Would you like to hear how they sound?”

            He’s going to play the drums in the office? How annoying. Hamilton had always hated solo drumming. He found it more tedious than opera. Humdrum. That’s where the word comes from. He wanted to move on. He was ready to ask about the site visit to Kawatara.

Mr. Taylor stood up and pointed toward the wall. “How about those drums over there?”

Karen popped up and scanned the room to find the collection. Her dark eyes sparkled with enthusiasm. She said Sure just as Hamilton blurted out a tentative Uhm. The Chargé looked deflated. His gaze oscillated between the two auditors, waiting for consensus. When it didn’t come promptly, he returned to his seat and asked the team boring questions about their careers.

The men were intentionally brief. Hamilton and Allan said they’d joined GAO after college thirteen years ago. Jay, whose muttonchops quivered as he spoke, said he came on board after serving in the early days of Vietnam—“with enough R and R in Bangkok to make it worthwhile.” He winked and poked Allan with his elbow to underscore the innuendo.

Karen was still in flattery mode.  After responding that she started in the San Francisco branch two years ago and transferred to Frankfurt in July, she tried to turn the conversation back on the Chargé.

But Hamilton wanted control. He quickly intervened. “Sir, are you taking mefloquine?”

            “No, I’m not. If I want to damage my liver, I’ll do it on my own terms. Cheers!” The Chargé, lifted his coffee cup as if it contained gin.

            Jay raised his water glass. “Here’s to liver damage, another possible journal entry.”  The team clinked glasses and responded with a limp Here, Here!

            “I have a second question, if you don’t mind, Sir.”

            “Of course.”

            “When can we do a site visit of the Kawatara Dam?”

            “Have patience, Mr. Langley. Let’s not rush things.”

            “I know, but we only have five weeks and. . . .”

 The Chargé uncrossed his legs and straightened his back. He was now all about business. “First we need to set you up in an office, get your computer passwords from IT, do your security briefing, get your building access id’s . . . .” The Chargé spoke faster and faster as he listed all the tasks to accomplish before thinking about the dam. Hamilton felt the barometric pressure dropping, and a new energy, like a gale-force wind, rushed through the room to hustle them out the door. “. . .then you have to meet John Lester in US AID. He will be your main contact in that building. Annette has some packets for you to read as well as today’s schedule. Wow. Busy, busy. Why don’t I just let her show you to your work space. Annette!” The Chargé could not get rid of them fast enough.

After leading the auditors to the first floor and explaining the lone Wang computer in their new make-shift headquarters, Annette returned to her suite.

 “Look at this tiny space,” said Jay. “We got a one-guy office for four people. They’re gonna make us as uncomfortable as possible.” A crimson heat rushed up his face and back to his receding hairline. “Show us the ropes, my ass. He wants to show us the door.”

            “Yeah,” Al agreed. “Don’t think he’ll be suiting up in our jersey.”

            “You guys need to learn how to kiss up. You were so lame up there,” said Karen.

            “Well, as my daddy used to tell me when I was just a wee little lad, If you don’t got nothing nice to say, shut the fuck up. I took his advice.”

“Jay!” said Hamilton trying to keep his voice down.

“Sorry. Sorry, Karen. It’s just that you were so nice up there, and I’m not sure he deserved it. He’s a cold SOB. What would your Daddy say about a guy like him?”

Karen thought for a moment. “Probably, it’s too soon to be so cynical.”


The team members turned toward Hamilton, waiting for him to signal the next move. He stood silently, scrutinizing each face trying to read their collective stare. So much negativity. He needed to quell it now. It was a challenge to his authority, a threat to the success of his first big job. “Don’t worry so much. We’re good. We’re expert researchers and interviewers. If the evidence is there, we’ll find it—with or without his help.”

Chapter 4

GAO is of often called the Congressional Watchdog. Whenever Congress learns of waste, fraud, abuse, or mismanagement, it unleashes the dogs.

            Yet pit bull would never be the best approach for a GAO review team. Auditors must act like man’s best friend and create a team with everyone pulling the sled in the same direction- toward efficiency and accountability. As such, they begin each introductory session by assuring the reviewees that GAO is here to help. That they bring no preconceived bias or political agenda. They just want to harness everyone’s expertise to streamline the operation and save millions of dollars. As taxpayers, we are all in this together.

The unspoken message is: if you want to keep your federal funding–and thus your job–you will cooperate to the fullest. Usually people comply.

“Nope. Can’t do it right now,” said John Lester, Head of the U.S. Agency for International Development. “Just no way we can get you out to the Kawatara Dam this week.” His words stopped but his head continued to shake.

            On Wednesday morning the GAO team had joined the USAID officials on the stage of a small auditorium in the USAID building. They sat in a row of equals. After introductions, the auditors assumed their low-key, friendly-as-a-border-collie approach and explained their mission to the American and Zairian staff seated in the audience below.

But now Hamilton was in John Lester’s third floor office, where the director sat behind his important mahogany desk as the gatekeeper of knowledge and the guardian of purse strings. He peered across the divide to where Hamilton sat like a petitioner.

            Hamilton tried to read his counterpart, but Lester’s vacant eyes and gaunt, lined face were as noncommittal as his tan safari suit. Yet his exasperation leaked out when he mumbled, “I don’t know why I had to cut two weeks off my summer home leave to prepare for this audit. It’s pointless.”

“Please?” Hamilton needed clarification.

“The Hydroelectric Project Initiative is an unwieldy operation, and you won’t be able to wrap your head around it in just five weeks.”

            Pushback already. Hamilton wasn’t expecting this. He’d have to employ his best auditor skills to turn it around. “I appreciate your letting me know where you stand right up front, but five weeks is what they gave us to complete this review. So the sooner we visit the dam site, the better.”

            “I haven’t had time to work that out yet. I’ve spent the last two weeks organizing your appointment schedule. I assume you want to speak to all the consortium members. Their schedules are tight and they struggled to squeeze you in.”

            “I appreciate that, but I feel like those meetings would be more beneficial if we have already viewed the project.”

            “Then there’s the Members of Parliament involved. They are almost impossible to nail down to a schedule.”

            “I’m sure you’ll work it out.”

            “We’ll have you start with our US AID Comptroller. He oversees the payroll and some of the funding.”

            “Does that include funds from public sector financiers, like the Export-Import Bank of the United States? We need to make sure all of our tax-paper money is accounted for.” 

            “He’ll put you in touch with the right people.”

            Hamilton realized that they were off track. He glanced at the ceiling for a segue. “Back to the site visit. If not this week, then how about first thing next week?”

            Lester’s eyes rolled way up in their sockets, as if he was trying to peer under his hairline. A piece of stringy brown hair had flopped onto his forehead. He pushed it back, but it stubbornly flopped forward again. Hamilton thought a good shampooing would solve the problem.

            “Early next week?” Hamilton repeated.

            “The rainy season washed out the roads,” Lester said, still tilting his head upwards. “They’re impassable.”

            “We’ll need a Plan B then. I’m sure we cannot complete an inventory until we visit the site.”

            “We have a lot of stuff still stored in a warehouse. You can inventory that.”

            “Jay McGinn will be on that right away, but he’ll also still want to visit the site.”

            The Aid Director sat pensively again. He seemed stumped, so Hamilton brainstormed solutions for him.

            “How about a helicopter? With all of the military in this embassy, I’m sure you could pull some strings. I mean, how do you get to the site?”

            Lester tried once more to ease the greasy strand back onto his head. “That’s a thought. I’ll see what I can do. Is there anything else?” Lester was not too subtle about wanting to end this meeting.

            “One last thing,” said Hamilton. “I’d like to have your take on why this project is so far behind schedule. I mean, the Hoover Dam was built in less time.”

            “The Hoover Dam already had electricity in the area. They could use night lighting. People worked around the clock—twenty-four-hour shifts. If you triple that number, you’ll get the amount of time it will take the Kawatara crew working in daylight only.”

            “Interesting point. But Kawatara is so much smaller than the Hoover Dam.”

            “True, but so is the size of our work force. The Hoover Dam had skilled laborers, people coming in from other dam projects, people familiar with tools and equipment. Here, we’re training the crews as we go. This is more than building a dam; it’s building a skilled middle class. Our mandate is huge.”

            “What makes it worse,” Lester continued in an exasperated tone, “is that this is not a typical US AID project. It wasn’t even conceived by our people. It was hatched in secret meetings at the Palace. Negotiations and machinations by a power-hungry triumvirate, and I’m not even sure what they really had in mind.”

“Who was involved?”

“A former CIA station chief, a retired U.S. Ambassador to Zaire, and President Mobutu, himself.”

            Hamilton perked up at this new information. “That’s a powerful threesome.”     

“You’re telling me,” Lester continued. “The triumvirate out-finagled the other bidders, and in-finagled US AID. We not only became one of the financiers, but we got stuck as the technical advisor and monitor-in-chief. If this mishmash of players screws things up, we’re left holding the bag.” 

I don’t see why AID took this project on.”

“Because someone convinced Reagan that expanded hydropower would increase electrical capacity enough to usher in Africa’s Industrial Age. Wouldn’t Reagan love to take credit for that.”

“Reagan, hunh?”

“Sure. He’s a charter member of the Mobutu fan club. He believes infrastructure projects reward America’s loyal ally for courageously supporting democracy. Mobutu crushed communism in Zaire and now lets us use the country as a staging ground for noble Cold War operations. We owe Mobutu big time, says the White House.

President Reagan was counting on this project. That made Hamilton’s work all the more important and the dam site visit all the more urgent. “So you’ll get back to me about the helicopter?”

“Sorry? Oh yeah right. I’ll contact you as soon as I know something.”

7 Responses to Nancy: “The Findings” (novel excerpt; political thriller)

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  2. Kathryn J. Bain


    I disagree with the advice you received. This does nothing to make me want to read your book. All I kept thinking was “get to it”.

    You can have the tribe attack and him thinking things like “How will my wife get back to the US?” or “I promised Kelly I’d be there to give her away at her wedding.” That type of stuff shows us he’s a family man. This makes the reader want to push for him w/o knowing much about him. And we don’t need to know the others just yet. Maybe have him have a “no man left behind” motto so you know he cares for this team which makes you care also.

  3. Michael Moller

    I like this Nancy! I’m not an avid reader of political thrillers, but your premise looks intriguing.

    Hamilton is engaging. You can feel the weight of responsibility on his shoulders, desperately trying to keep his team focused and assert the right leadership. Karen is also well-sketched so far, and I like the banter between her and Hamilton. I want to see where that relationship goes.

    This seems very well researched. I’m placed into a world I didn’t know about, one of high-stakes posturing and political gamesmanship. The sense of setting and tone is very well done.

    You might want to consider cutting down on some adjectives here and there. This is something I’m consistently guilty of as well. While I absolutely love some of the ways you describe things, it messes with the pacing a bit. It makes every little detail feel inflated and unnecessarily grandiose.
    Example: “Hamilton recognized his thick, curly, brown-grey mutton chops connected to a hairline that was rapidly receding into a cul-de-sac.”

    Maybe you can just tell us he has mutton chops, we’ll remember that.

    As far as your concerns about being engaging enough to hold the reader’s attention before the inciting incident, this one’s a tough call for me. I think you might need a little more of a hook at the beginning to hold us over for the big first plot point, which I assume is the tribe attack. The nightmare sequence was excellent, but it ended quickly and we knew instantly that Hamilton was no longer in danger. The tension was released. After that, we meet the team and learn a little about what they’re all about, what their assignment is, and the stakes so far(Reagan is counting on them!). But this might not be enough to grab us by the throat. Again, I’m no political thriller expert, but maybe you can show them in a precarious situation in the beginning, kind of like the nightmare, but real–and worse. Then in the next few chapters you can set up the big game plan with the necessary exposition. Just a thought.

    Overall I think this is a great start, and I’d want to see what happens when these characters are truly tested. Hope this was helpful!

  4. Dawn Peterson

    Tape the words, “Who cares?” to your computer and you can eliminate a lot of things like terry cloth robes and showers—unless he’s having sex in the shower or slitting his wrists. The death knell of any story is starting with a dream. Drop it. It’s way too confusing at a time you really need to show us the stakes and lay the foundation of who,what,where, and why. The info regarding the drug is interesting, but it can be shown in another way that is more active. I found the dialog to be stilted. Didn’t feel right. I stopped reading, wondering why these people are all running around at a hotel because the stakes don’t jump out at me in the first paragraph.

  5. Maria Holt

    I found the story to begin without me knowing much about it. The dream was somewhat terrifying but if his briefcase were really gone, I think he’d wake up and say more than ‘geez.’ He’d jump up, heart pounding, in a cold sweat.
    Some of the action is too passive. Don’t have him feel hands grab him, have them actually grab him. “Hands grabbedme.” Not ‘he was mesmerized.’ Too passive. Instead, something like ‘The door swung open and I was face to face with an exotic beauty.’ You see what I’m saying.
    Also, I see too much dialogue in this. IMO there needs to be more introspection on the hero’s part.
    I’m not an expert but I see in this piece a lot of hard work and research but a struggle with the art of storytelling. Anybody can learn it but to get good at it, you’ve got to write, and write a lot and often. Only then can you write prose when you need it, nuts and bolts stuff when it’s necessary and get down to telling a story. You have to ask a central question: WHAT IS THIS STORY ABOUT? Answer it in one sentence.
    And remember, you can use an exclamation point about once in your whole novel or it ends up looking like a YA story. Instead of ‘help!’ maybe he could wrestle around with his predicament and then say, ‘could somebody help me out here?’ or similar.

  6. Maria Holt

    I got to thinking about your post, and other types of work I have read that are similar. Read ‘Congo’ by Michael Crichton. That book is excellent. It tells you all about Africa but does a great job of characterization as well. Have you read alot of other works of political intrigue? This is very valuable as well. Read a really good author and see how he or she does it.

  7. nancy


    Thank you for your constructive criticism. It’s stuff I knew in my gut but was denying on the surface. You’ve helped out it. Bottom line, you can’t fudge the story structure. Thanks, too for your encouragement. It means a lot.


    You have great ideas and have been very helpful. More active–you’re right. My issue is that I lived in Congo for quite awhile and I wanted to write an historical fiction–this is not research; it’s my life. But then someone told me the time frame has to be fifty years ago to qualify for HF. I don’t want to wait 30 years to release this, so now I’m trying to convert to political thriller by reading a lot of Le Carre, etc. You have encouraged me to keep at it while rethinking.

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