Seven short assignments for the New York Pitch conference in June 2022:
Assignment One – Story Statement
Uncover the identity of a serial killer, who may actually be her friend
Assignment Two – Antagonist
He murders women for the power he feels and the pleasure derived from acting on his urges, but also to receive praise and approval from his mentor, the King. After he kills, he photographs the body and puts the pictures online for the King and others in his group to enjoy. Early on, the reader learns that he is someone who works at the United Nations mission with the main character, Stella. He does not draw attention to himself, but he enjoys exploiting his position as a foreigner and feels superior to his peers by operating outside of the rules that restrict them. Because of past mistakes (which are revealed as the novel progresses), he is compelled to prove to the King that he is worthy of the second chance he was given. He is physically strong and reasonably successful, yet he needs to cover his insecurity by proving he is smarter than others. He has little respect for women, especially those who work in the sex trade. Interspersed chapters told from his perspective provide details about who he is and how he thinks, but his identity is only revealed at the end of the story.
Assignment Three – Title
Blood in Bangui
Under Cover of Chaos
Murder on the Banks of the Ubangi
Assignment Four – Comparables
This book is similar to the Archer and Bennett series by Candice Fox in that it centers on a female protagonist who follows the trail of murderers, but Stella, the protagonist of this novel, is not a cop – she is an accidental detective by virtue of the situation and her curiosity/overly analytical mind. This book is also similar to The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo series in that it is part of a trilogy in which each book describes a complete story with a different setting and main antagonist. However, while each novel in this series stands on its own, there is an underlying plot line that links all three books and is resolved in the last novel. One of the themes this book discusses is how foreigners with means can exploit lawless or chaotic conditions in developing countries for nefarious purposes, a theme also discussed in To The Lions by Holly Watt, and with respect to level of violence, these two books are also similar in that, while murder is central to the plot, there is relatively little explicit violence.
Assignment Five – Hook Line
A young woman working far from home stumbles upon evidence that may link her colleague to an ongoing murder spree and finds herself caught between trust and friendship and her desire to bring the killer to justice.
Assignment Six – Inner Conflict and Secondary Conflict
Inner Conflict: Stella is torn between revealing the information she has found out about her friend Eric’s connections to a string of murdered woman and potentially letting him get away with killing more women. As both a supportive friend and colleague, he has never given any indication that he might be violent or unhinged, let alone a serial killer. However, she questions whether you can ever really know someone, especially in a place like a UN field mission where anyone can become whoever they want, since their background is unknown to their new circle of friends and acquaintances.
Secondary Conflict: There is an ongoing tension throughout the novel between the underlying violence and unrest in the country and the characters’ ability to make friends and enjoy themselves. Despite the terrible things that have happened in the country and continue to occur, the people who live in Bangui refuse to give up or give in, continuing to live their lives and find joy where they can. The local population continues to work, dream, and take advantage of whatever opportunities come their way and Stella makes great friendships, finds love, and has unforgettable experiences in the midst of death and chaos.
Assignment Seven – Setting
The story is set in Bangui, capital of the Central African Republic, one of the poorest countries on the planet, where Stella works for a UN peacekeeping mission. When she arrives, the violent conflict has slowed as there have been truce agreements between the two main fighting coalitions and the government. However, clashes between armed groups still occur in the outlying regional areas and violence sometimes breaks out in the capital.
Scenes in the novel occur at the following locations: 1) the best hotel in the city, where Stella gets a glimpse into the nightlife and her coworker Eric’s lifestyle; 2) the main headquarters of the UN mission, where Stella interacts with her coworkers from around the world and meets her new best friend, Phillipe; 3) on the roads of the city, where life and death not only occur but are on full display; 4) at her apartment complex near the Ubangi River, where she spends time with her friends and colleagues and discovers some of their secrets; 5) at one of the restaurants that foreigners frequent, where she goes for a date with her love interest, Rachid; 6) at the tennis club next to the river and 7) a party at an NGO house, both places where she blows off steam with her friends and sees her coworkers during off hours; 8) on a cruise on the river, which takes her outside of the city limits; and 9) back at the tennis club at night when it’s dark and secluded and there is no one around to hear the screams.
The setting of Bangui and Stella’s work in the peacekeeping mission provide the opportunity to show the reader a place and type of work with which they are probably not familiar. The backdrop of the conflict and the peculiarities of life in a peacekeeping mission also help to drive the action by reinforcing the fact that, in a chaotic place without a fully functioning government or justice system and plenty of secluded places, violence can touch every life, often going unresolved, and also by showing how, in an intense operational situation in a conflict zone, the close interaction between personal life and work life make knowing more than you might want to about your coworkers, for better or for worse, inevitable.