When freelance journalist, Crystal Nguyen, heads to South Africa, she thinks she’ll be researching an article on rhino-horn smuggling for National Geographic, while searching for her missing colleague. But, within a week, she’s been hunting poachers, hunted by their bosses, and then arrested in connection with a murder. And everyone is after a briefcase full of money that may hold the key to everything.
Fleeing South Africa, she goes undercover in Vietnam, trying to discover the truth before she’s exposed by the local mafia. Discovering the plot behind the money is only half the battle. Now she must convince the South African authorities to take action before it’s too late. She has a shocking story to tell, if she survives long enough to tell it…
Fast-paced, relevant and chilling, Dead of Night is a stunning new thriller that exposes one of the most vicious conflicts on the African continent…
Why write a stand-alone?
It’s a natural question. We’ve been successful writing the Detective Kubu books set in Botswana. Readers enjoy them, and we get lots of messages asking when the next one will be out. We had a variety of reasons to write something different, but dumping Kubu, his family, and colleagues is not one of them. We still love writing him and exploring his crime investigations in Botswana. We certainly haven’t run out of ideas, and we’re currently at work on a prequel to the series covering the time when he first joins the CID as a lowly detective sergeant. Why then break from Kubu and write something completely different?
A series has a variety of plots and backstories, to say nothing of new characters, but in the end the series protagonist has to be the focus. The features that make a series rich – the history and backstory of the main character – also constrain what one can do and where one can go. And the unwritten rules of a police procedural need to be obeyed. The characters expect it and so do the readers.
We wanted to try something different – a different style of book with a completely different protagonist. We visualised it as a thriller with a backstory of the rhino poaching and rhino-horn smuggling in South Africa, and saw the protagonist as a committed conservation journalist trying to find her way through it in pursuit of a big story. We knew we wanted a strong woman character who would be willing to break the rules when necessary. We also decided that she should not be a South African, because it would be more intriguing for her to discover the issues from the viewpoint of a foreigner rather than bringing the baggage of local perceptions with her. And to make it a bit more challenging, we decided to try it in first person to bring out the immediacy of what was happening to the main character. We even toyed with it being written in present tense (but decided against that). Pretty soon the story was moving along nicely…
…until we started to hit problems. The action was good, the situations intriguing, but something wasn’t right. We came to realise that we didn’t properly understand who our character was or what her motivations were. One issue was that we wanted her to be between two worlds rather than a ‘normal’ American. And Stan had the brainwave of making her a Vietnamese American who grew up in Minnesota where there is, in fact, a very large Vietnamese community, which came to the US after the war. So Crystal Nguyen was born. But now we had new problems. We needed to research that subculture, and more than ever we needed a much better idea of who she really was.
In the end, Stan wrote what started as an outline for a novella to explore her character, and ended up as a short novel in its own right. She became an investigative reporter focussed on the environment and with a passion for the American gray wolf. We started to understand her and respect her, and we knew much better why she would come to Africa, passionate about rhino conservation, yet somewhat naïve.
The story starts when National Geographic commissions her to go to South Africa to work on a major article on rhino conservation after one of their own reporters disappears there. He is a very close friend, and as well as jumping at the National Geographic assignment, she is desperate to find out what’s happened to him. She plunges into the political maelstrom around the poaching, the battle between the conservation NGOs that want a total ban on rhino horn trade and the farmers who want to harvest the horn and sell it. She takes on the poachers, and then she takes on their Mozambique bosses. She finds a briefcase of money –obviously connected to the smugglers – and everyone wants it and is willing to kill to get it. She’d like to hand it over to the police, but is convinced that they’re corrupt and that she won’t live to tell the tale. She comes to understand the complexities, but can she stay alive long enough to exploit that knowledge? Eventually she has to go to Vietnam itself – the centre of the rhino-horn trade – and what was perilous in South Africa becomes deadly there.
We were pretty happy with it, but… we found that while Stan’s book had worked well in first person, our joint work was less smooth. It’s difficult to cram two writers’ heads into the single head of the protagonist telling the story. We also felt that her quest was too abstract, that it needed a more personal imperative. And then we realised that she was really looking for the man she loved, that love trumped her powerful conservation commitment.
It took enormous input from our editors and a number of rewrites, but suddenly everything came into focus, and the book achieved what it set out to do.
Crys is out there fighting her way through her story. We invite you to come along for the ride!
Michael Stanley is the writing team of Michael Sears and Stanley Trollip. Both were born in South Africa and have worked in academia and business. On a flying trip to Botswana, they watched a pack of hyenas hunt, kill, and devour a wildebeest, eating both flesh and bones. That gave them the premise for their first mystery, A Carrion Death, which introduced Detective ‘Kubu’ Bengu of the Botswana Criminal Investigation Department. It was a finalist for five awards, including the CWA Debut Dagger. The series has been critically acclaimed, and their third book, Death of the Mantis, won the Barry Award and was a finalist for an Edgar award. Deadly Harvest was a finalist for an International Thriller Writers’ award. Dead of Night is their first stand-alone thriller.