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Heart Of Diamonds: A novel of scandal, love, and death in the Congo Paperback – December 29, 2009
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From Publishers Weekly
The ongoing tragedy of the Congo serves as the backdrop for this tepid thriller, Donelson's first novel. After TV newscaster Valerie Grey gets passed over for an evening anchor job at the MBS network, she tries to lose herself in Africa, where she stumbles on a diamond-smuggling scheme involving not only a sleazy American televangelist but also the George W. Bush–like U.S. president. Valerie quickly becomes the target of the conspiracy's members and, predictably, finds herself falling for the hunky idealistic doctor who runs a local clinic. Readers should be prepared for some clunky prose (Valerie's brown eyes flashed a warning, the green flecks in the irises dancing with anger). Those seeking a novel that explores human exploitation in 21st-century Africa on the level of, say, John le Carré's The Mission Song will be disappointed. (Sept.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
From the Author
Heart of Diamonds is a high-concept romantic thriller about blood diamonds in the Congo. The plot involves the White House, the President of the Democratic Republic of Congo, and an American televangelist in a diamond smuggling scheme that is uncovered by a TV reporter, Valerie Grey.
The idea came from research I did that was prompted by Michael Fay's fascinating 15-month, 2,000-kilometer megatransect of the Congo basin for National Geographic. What a great achievement that was! I've done some pretty hairy trips myself, but nothing like that. I became fascinated with the Congo and delved into the politics and history of the country.
The concept for Heart of Diamonds sprang from an item I came across in Time Magazine about the cozy relationship between Pat Robertson, the famous American televangelist, and Mobutu Sese-Seko, the dictator who raped the Congo for thirty years. When I found out Robertson owned diamond mines and timber concessions in the Congo--making profits from slave labor, no less--I simply had to write a book about it.
The Robertson-Mobutu connection makes for quite a story. Mobutu was essentially put in office by the CIA. He ran the country--which he renamed Zaire--with an iron fist and stole literally billions of dollars. He also had one of the worst human rights records in Africa, which is saying a lot.
Pat Robertson, on the other hand, is one of the most successful evangelical preachers of all time. He founded the 700 Club, ran for President of the United States, and has millions of followers who subscribe to his version of Christianity. You wouldn't think these two men would be buddies, would you?
But they were. Robertson was deeply involved in business dealings in the Congo. The Time article reported that once, in the late 1980's, Robertson and his wife and their entourage were flown from Paris to Kinshasa on one of Mobutu's personal Boeing 707s. In Zaire, Mobutu personally took them on the presidential yacht on a ride up the Congo River to visit one of his estates.
Robertson had a relief program in the Congo--Operation Blessing, which is still operating today--as well as a private concern called the African Development Company, which made investments in mining, lumber, agriculture, transportation and power generation, supposedly with an eye to plowing the profits back into humanitarian efforts. One of those investments was a diamond mine in a small town south of Tshikapa near the Congo's border with Angola. That's where I placed the diamond mine in Heart of Diamonds.
One of the men who ran ADC for Robertson was Bill Lovick, a former minister who was dismissed by the Assemblies of God church in 1985 for questionable fund raising practices. Readers of Heart of Diamonds may find some interesting similarities between these men and some of the characters in the novel, notably televangelist Gary Peterson, the missionary Thomas Alben who runs the diamond mine, and Moise Messime, the President of the Congo.
As I read more and more about these guys and the things they were doing in the Congo in the name of Jesus Christ, the more intrigued I became. Heart of Diamonds obviously isn't their story--the smuggling scheme, the connection to the White House, the U.S. military involvement, and so on are completely fictional. My heroine Valerie Grey and the other characters are figments of my imagination, too, although they certainly have personality traits similar to real individuals.
What is not fiction in Heart of Diamonds is the terrible plight of the people of the Democratic Republic of Congo, which is the direct result of the unadulterated greed exhibited by people eager to control the vast natural resources of the country. Mobutu may be long gone and Pat Robertson's business interests gone with him, but the brutality continues.
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While the depiction of the vicious, bloody civil war in the Congo remains a constant background theme, the exposure of a diamond smuggling operation by American TV journalist, Valerie Grey, takes you on an exhilarating journey. When Grey uncovers the corrupt scheme she quickly learns that she is dealing with a group of ruthless criminals who will stop at nothing to prevent her from airing her story. The deeper she probes, the deeper the roots of corruption seem to have grown. Soon it becomes evident that Grey and her assistant can trust no one.
Nonstop action, devastation and brutality run concurrent with altruism and romance in this thriller making it an energetic and exhilarating read. Mr. Donelson, thank you for opening this reader's eyes to the horrors of the Congo. I was moved by this novel's ability to teach as well as thoroughly entertain.
Bravo Mr. Donelson!
However, the events in the story are very realistic to the problems in the Congo and much of eastern Africa. What I liked about it was that that the story was a suspenseful, page-turner which reads like a modern action-movie like "Blood Diamonds," and it will, I hope, bring awareness to the problems in the Congo. My fear is that it will alienate many conservatives and evangelicals who will find the portrayal of the politicians and pastors to be quite extreme. Not that I doubt that such scams exist, I just wish all the characters were more dynamic and less stereotypical.
The action and suspense centers around a diamond smuggling scheme uncovered by TV reporter Valerie Grey. Hatched by missionary Thomas Alben, who runs a diamond mine owned by American televangelist Gary Peterson. Peterson is in cahoots with the President of the Congo, but doesn't mind skimming some of the mine's profits, when Alben comes up with the idea of smuggling raw diamonds into the U.S. inside little dolls.
The slimy preachers use some of the diamonds to bribe a White House aide to recommend a U.S. military mission to the Congo supposedly to support Messime's government, but actually to protect the diamond mine. When Grey goes to the Congo to cover the action, she stumbles upon the smuggling scheme. She tries to get the story on air but the missionary, the Congolese army, even a Terminator-type secret agent sent by the White Hous try to stop her. It all happens in the middle of a civil war, which provides some horrible background scenery and complicates Grey's struggle to get away.
Grey has help along the way, from Jaime Talon, an altruistic doctor who runs a clinic in the village where the mine is located. A romance blooms between them. Even with all the fights, raids, battles, chase scenes along crocodile-infested rivers and over refugee-clogged roads, the story is fast-paced with the romance allowing the reader to breathe as it unfolds. It will make a great screenplay.