Jul 27, 2009

QUERY- Killing Time on the Highway

A revision of this query has been posted. Click here to read it.

Large amounts of money bring large problems. State patrol investigator Cade Dawkins is assigned the case of a lifetime when a bloody highway shootout leaves behind eight dead bodies—and $300 million in cash. Recovering from a disastrous assignment that left his partners dead and his career on life support, Cade knows this will either be his biggest case—or his final case.

As Cade races to solve the case and find redemption, the money’s owner has his own plan to steal it back. Violent diversions are used—including an amazingly catastrophic attack on Minneapolis-St. Paul’s busiest highway—to slow down Cade’s investigation and help an audacious thief break into Patrol headquarters to get the money back.

Killing Time on the Highway, my 68,000 word thriller, is a tribute to the Prey series of John Sandford that has captivated me for the last 20 years. His novels have taught me that strong characters, tight plotting and plenty of action are important ingredients to a successful thriller.

Having written professionally for the last ten years, focusing on advertising, marketing and public relations, I quickly learned the value of powerful ideas and concise execution. Enjoying writing for the fun of it, I am currently 40,000 words into my second novel—an unrelated thriller.

Best regards,
Allan Evans


Rick Daley said...

The query is tight and it probably does a great job at relating the voice of your fast-paced thriller. My questions are more about plot details.

$300 million in cash is a lot of money. $1M in hundreds would weigh about 20 lbs and be the approximate size of a 15" television. The full amount would be about 6,000 lbs.

I also wonder why someone with that much cash would transport it all at once, and on the highway.

Allan Evans said...

The cash is actually in Euros, in 500 notes. As for why, you'll have to read the story. . .

Rick Daley said...

I could guess why...I just did a quick check and 300 million euros equals $427 million USD ;-)

Lori Folkman said...

For the most part, I think your query is good. I don't know if I love your first sentence though.I think it might be too cliche and it lacks a powerful first line punch. The other things that stuck out are "plenty of action" and "writing for the fun of it." That type of wording seems to take away the professionalism of the query. I think all writers write for the fun of it (certainly not because it pays well for the most part!) so don't even mention that. Your last paragraph should be very brief...I write professionally for-- .

Good luck! Sounds like a page turner.

Allan Evans said...

How about this for a first line:
Sometimes you can have too much money. State patrol investigator Cade Dawkins is assigned the case of a lifetime when a bloody highway shootout leaves behind eight dead bodies—and $300 million in cash. Recovering from a disastrous assignment that left his partners dead and his career on life support, Cade knows this will either be his biggest case—or his final case.

gj said...

Hunh. I was thinking the pace of the query was inconsistent with a thriller. I think there's a solid story here, but the query itself is almost entirely passive (either technically or in effect).

You start with money as the actor: money brings problems. No person is acting, and the problems are theoretical, not affecting a person we know and care about. Story is about people in struggle -- focus on the people and the struggle.

Then look at the verbs. Your protagist "is assigned." Passive, and I've got no clue whether he's happy about it, reluctant, dreading it, whatever. The inciting event can be passive, but show me that he's resisting it, or he's going to latch onto it, or something active. Not just, "ho hum, I've been assigned a multiple homicide that's going to make or break my career that I don't really care about, anyway."

Next, he "is recovering" (not technically passive grammar, but so vague as to be effectively passive), his career (not a person) is on life support, and he "knows" something (not a particular active verb), i.e., that a multiple homicide is a big case or career-ender (pretty much a truism, and still doesn't get to whether the protagonist cares or what he cares about or why we should care about him).

Finally, Cade acts -- he races. Except, not literally, and there's no indication of what he actually does in that race, which is what is going to be interesting.

Next, the ultimate passivity: "Violent diversions are used." You're describing a catastrophic attack, and the subject of the verb is "violent diversions," rather than a person! What would get you more excited about a story: hearing that violent diversions are used or that Joe Shmoe beat someone to death with a .... (I'm no good at violent, so I'll go goofy in the example, but the same theory applies) .... deformed carrot, so his friend could steal all the better-looking carrots.

For a thriller, there ought to be specific, interesting ACTION by the protagonist. Not passive receipt of actions by unknown others. For a thriller, there should also be a clear antagonist who is acting, rather than an unknown entity.

It's all about the action. Specific action.

Suzan Harden said...


This sounds like a great story. In addition to things folks have already mentioned, I'd add-

1) Say that Cade is in Minnesota up front. Each state has its own trooper culture.

2) Why didn't Homeland Secuirty take the case away from the Minn. state patrol? This is a significant amount of foreign currency (and one of my biggest pet peeves in the Lethal Weapon II plot). Federal authority will trump state authority in this type of case without a pretty significant reason.

3) 68K is a little on the low side for a thriller word count for most of the big publishing houses. DId you have a particular market in mind?

4) Don't compare yourself to another writer unless the agent you're targetng specifically requests it in their guidelines. A bunch of agents have issues with this type of thing.

5) You want to keep the agent's or editor's focus on Killing Time. Don't mention the second book until they ask what else are you working on.

Best wishes on your query!

Tricia J. O'Brien said...

First, this catches my interest.
However, I would lose the first sentence, which stopped me cold. I reread it three times before moving on and finding the story. Also, in that first graph, I got confused between the case of a lifetime and what I assume is a different case with dead bodies that got him in trouble. That needs clarification. There is too much passive voice and there are places where you could be more specific (others mentioned some of those). Also, if you say catastrophic attack, you don't need amazingly. I think you are on solid ground here but need tightening.

David Ebright said...

First visit. Just read most of the posts & comments. Upbeat, honest, thought provoking, polite. Can't ask for more than that. Nice job. I'll swing by again. DE