Friday, December 2, 2011

#13 Mystery/Thriller: Message from Panama

TITLE: Message from Panama
GENRE: Mystery/Thriller

A puzzling letter from his three-months dead, long-estranged uncle summons Pen Smith to Panama. Within hours of arriving, he becomes the victim of a brazen shooting, heir to a fabulous fortune, the object of embezzlement, poisoning and torture—and the man charged with unlocking the secret of a longtime family tragedy. To find his adversary and save his life, Pen treks through one of the most lawless jungles in the world, coming face-to-face and gun-to-gun with brutal narco-terrorists. Pen mistakenly believes his pursuer has been eliminated, but the would-be murderer orchestrates a final, fateful, and—for someone—fatal showdown.

Death turned its sights on me Tuesday morning. With the bougainvillea high-stepping in a hot, salty breeze and the effervescent noises of mankind surrounding me, dying was the last thing on my mind.
There were no white lights or tunnels. My life didn’t unfold like a newsreel before my eyes. Death simply seemed determined to claim me.

I was in Panama, on a trip as enigmatic as the country, summoned by my Uncle Henry—literally from the grave. The way things were going, I could ask him about it any second.


My hotel room looked out onto the sweeping mosaic of Panama Bay, its glistening veneer dancing between the colors of water and sky. At one end was a cluster of apartment buildings and hotels, including mine. At the opposite, the classic colonial city. Arcing around the bay were skyscrapers, strung like fancy jewels in every shape, color and design.

I headed for a walk to see more.

Behind me lay 9,000 brilliant miles of Pacific Ocean, ahead, the crown of the Majestic Casino. I'd never been to a casino in the morning. With an hour to kill before the meeting, it seemed like a good time.
I entered a crosswalk and looked down in surprise as my right leg crumpled, sending me sprawling. Before I could move, an SUV shot almost close enough to make my fingers part of the pavement.
There was an ominous rumble. I lifted my head.


  1. Your logline is a tad wordy, I think some tweaks could be made there. I don't think you need to describe the shooting as brazen, there's a strong enough image there already. How exactly does he become an heir just by going to Panama? Was that part of the letter? And why do people want him dead? Are the narco-terrorists his pursuer/murderer, or is that someone else? I think if you trimmed it a little bit, the line could be clearer.

    The story sounds intriguing, but I don't get a good sense of your character in the first words. It's just kind of him looking at things. Maybe some reactions? Thoughts about the meeting? Establishing voice in the first 250 is tough, but the story sounds exciting enough, and I bet you can do it!

    Good luck!

  2. Your story sounds exciting. I was definitely drawn into the setting in the first paragraphs.

    The logline is overwritten. It is hard to follow the arc of the story with so much descriptive language.

    Wishing you success!

  3. Your logline is more of a log paragraph. The length is more that which you would find in a story summary in a query, not a logline. If you need a logline for something else, I'd suggest you cut this right down.

    I'm also not a fan of the prologue as I prefer the story to start with the action, not with the narrator reflecting about events that have already occurred. Not many agents seem to like prologues either, from what I have read, but a lot of books seem to turn up with them so who knows.

    Once the story starts, I like this a lot more. The only thing that struck me as a little off was Pen looking down as his leg crumples. The actions seem to be out of order. His leg would begin to crumple before he looked down, and in fact I think you could cut him looking down at all. It's not like it's happening to another character and he needs to look to know it's happening - he would feel his leg crumpling whether he looks or not.

    I would read on, mostly because I feel like your story is only just starting at the end of the 250 and I want to learn more.

    Good luck for the auction!

  4. I agree with much of what the previous commenters covered.

    I'd like to add that I feel a thin veil between the reader and Pen because he's too self-aware. (Bron's note about Pen noticing his leg hits this squarely.) We're getting too much of his internal motivation and not enough of his physical sensations. As a reader, in this moment, I don't care why Pen's going to the casino, I don't want him noticing his leg, and I don't really care why he's in Panama. I just want to feel as surprised and terrified as he is when he smacks the pavement, almost loses his fingers, and looks up to see (I'm assuming) a bus or truck.

    Unfortunately, I'm not connecting emotionally with Pen, and I really want to. That's because I don't get any feelings from him. Do his palms sting? Is his heart pounding? Does his knee hurt?

    I think there's a compelling story here, but I'm not pulled deeply enough into the character's mind to get there, yet.

    First person is tricky this way, but I suspect if I could read on, I'd find you've gotten into the groove.

    Good luck with the auction and your writing!

  5. This is an example of the logline not being as enticing as the excellent excerpt. This is the best spot to be in because the story will draw the reader in. You can always fix a logline (including trimming all the adjectives).

    I don't mind the prologue-y beginning at all.

    I especially love this line:
    ...summoned by my Uncle Henry—literally from the grave. The way things were going, I could ask him about it any second.

    I'd read on!

  6. The logline is interesting, but it's much more detail than a logline needs. You could end it after "longtime family tragedy" and it would suit perfectly well. (Though, should that be long-ago family tragedy? Does a tragedy last a long time, or is it a single incident with a long tail?)

    It's hard to believe that dying is the last thing on his mind when he's embarked on his trip because of death. That's enough to make anyone think about their own mortality.

    I like the tone of the prologue bit, and the setup. It's very mystery-novel and I think it works. I'd change "any second" because that means "at any time" to me. Maybe to "in a few seconds"? But I think that's a fun line, and the prologue really establishes voice.

    I agree with other commenters that "looking down in surprise" isn't enough to convey surprise. I was getting into the character and now I'm distanced from him because he's switched to keeping events, and the reader, at arm's length.

  7. This promises to be a page turner. Lots of exciting elements in the logline--as others have previously commented, probably too many elements. It could be streamlined and still be effective. Panama is a great choice for a setting. People who read these types of thrillers really want to plunge into a new place and "see" what it looks like. You've done that. I like the skyscrapers strung out like jewels.

    It works well to have him nearly die at the beginning of the book. Again, in this genre you want action if not violence immediately.

    To me, the logline pushes too hard, especially with the "F" alliteration at the end. And the very beginning pushes death aggressively too. I think the story can still hook readers very well if you take it down a notch.

  8. I like the slick, confiding voice of the narrator, works great for this genre; very nice description too. The 'mosaic' works well for me.

    Not so keen on the first paragraph of the prologue - too much repetition and too vague - but I like the dry wit of the second graph.

    Not sure I get the 'crumpling' thing. If he's crumpling with no explanation, just a sudden loss of strength, that can be mentioned; if he's been shot or something, wouldn't that be accompanied by searing pain?

  9. A good premise with a promise for an action-packed book. As others have stated, the log line has too much information -- it's more like a query. The writing of the story, however, is quite nice. I'd keep reading.

    Good luck with the Baker's Dozen.