Sandra Lee Johnson's fledgling career as a government assassin may have been permanently derailed.
This makes me think that Sandra is just a new assassin but later you write:
"Sandra has survived for years as a killer-for-hire"
so "fledgling career" is the wrong phrase here. If I change agencies, I wouldn't describe it as a "fledgling career" as a shark for RoyaltiesAreUs. I'd simply have a new place to hang my hat.
All because of one man.
Sandra's new employer, a DIA sub-contractor, recruited her because she could kill without remorse. She was perfect for their off-the-books charter: exterminate key terrorist supporters in such a horrific way that others would be convinced to find new occupations.
Sandra's first mission took her to Dubai, where she was supposed to terminate a high-level terrorist financier named Muhammad al-Abtari. Only one problem: unknown to anyone outside the CIA, al-Abtari was a highly prized Company asset.
Joe Armbruster, al-Abtari's handler, was aware that some unidentified group had been offing terrorists in heinous ways, and that his pet Islamist was next on their list. So he set up a sting using al-Abtari as bait.
You've solved almost all of the tone problem but it resurfaces here with "pet Islamist"
It almost worked.
Sandra managed to escape without being compromised, but Armbruster strongly suspected her involvement. Although he knew her only by an assumed name, he had seen her face.
Her organization's response was to spirit her away until they could get her off the CIA's 'Most Wanted' list.
Sandra prefers a more direct approach.
She knows it's not Armbruster's fault. Bad luck all around. Still, if you play in the killing fields, you know your death may be necessary to serve a larger purpose.
Sandra has survived for years as a killer-for-hire, so she knows how to murder and get away cleanly. Armbruster will make a very challenging target - exactly what she desires.
Unless he gets to her first.
The problem here isn't the query. You've got a good one now (once you fix that last issue with tone). The problem is what's at stake: nothing. It's a cat and mouse game between two people I don't really care about. Sandra, the remorseless killer, and Joe, the guy trying to stop her. There's no larger issue, like the Fall of the Roman Empire, or the Coup Against The Queen of the Known Universe.
Think about the great cat and mouse game movie Hopscotch (based on the book by Brian Garfield). What's at stake there is the reputation of the CIA, but the difference is we really care about the Walter Matthau character and want him to prevail. In your query, one side seems as bad as the other.
Assuming we're going to root against the terrorists just because they're terrorists doesn't really work.
The question then becomes: who is the protagonist? Is it Joe or Sandra? We don't have to like either of them, but we must want one to prevail.
In Ken Follett's masterful Key To Rebecca, we are introduced to the antagonist, and he has our sympathy for several chapters. Very slowly we come to realize he's the bad guy.
The query for that book however would START with the fact that there is a spy in Cairo who can change the course of the war in North Africa. The cat and mouse game between the spy and the British major has VERY high stakes (even though we actually know the outcome of the war before we even start the book.)
This is probably something to fix in the book first and then revise the query.
And you might consider this: the idea that killing terrorists in horrific ways will dissuade them from doing anything defies logic. Uncertainty is what stops people in their tracks. The unknown.
If you join TerroristsAreUs only to find that your friends are dropping dead for no apparent reason, in the most mundane of places, that's terrifying. Terrorists are people, not cardboard cutouts. I'm perfectly willing to risk a terrible death to defend my country. The uncertainty though of lots of unexplained deaths...frankly I'd be wondering if that was the hand of God saying "yea, you're on the wrong path, there bucko."
That's just something to think about. This is your book, and you should write the one you want.
Sandra Lee Johnson is on the run.
From, of all people, the CIA.
Which, she thinks, is patently unfair. Since Sandra is working for a DIA contractor, they’re all on the same side, right?
I mean, come on. Is it her fault that Muhammad al-Abtari, her terrorist target, turned out to be a highly placed CIA asset? Or that the CIA thinks she was in Dubai to remove him from the board, even if she was?
It’s not as if she knew he was a double agent and went after him anyway. So why are they so upset?
Sure, her organization’s methods might seem a little extreme. Torture and dismemberment are illegal, blah blah blah.
Tell that to the terrorists.
The CIA might also be pissed because, about a month ago, one of her company’s teams swapped the heads of al-Abtari’s brother and sister-in-law. It messed up that hotel room in Santorini, too, but isn’t that what cleaners are for?
Again, who knew? Mistakes happen. No intelligence is perfect.
Some ball-less Justice Department wimp would no doubt love to get his hands on her organization. But for that to happen, those CIA agents first have to get their hands on her.
She’s asking herself how far she should go to protect her organization. She doesn’t really want to kill her own countrymen.
Then again, they brought this on themselves. A little inter-agency cooperation wouldn’t have hurt, would it?
There’s not much time left. Sandra needs to make a decision.
She just hopes it won’t be her last.
This is a mess. You're trying to be funny. Stop. I'm your EXACT audience for a thriller query and I can tell you that this flippant tone does not help you. Thrillers aren't flippant. They can be dark, sardonic and sarcastic, but they can't be flippant.
Also, this is a big block o'text, and thus it is close to unreadable on my screen. Almost every line here should have a line of white space after it.
As I see it you've got two problems: your query's tone reflects the book, and thus even if you polish up the query you're going to have a hard time with the book because of the tone, OR your query is not like your book, and that means all you need to do is quit trying to be clever, and just right a straightforward query that tells me who the main character is and what her choices are and what's at stake with those choices.
Have confidence that your story will be interesting in and of itself.
Dear Query Shark:
Most people, when offered a new job, find the decision process fairly straightforward. Since Sandra Lee Johnson’s profession is killing people, her decision process is understandably more complex.
If this is a query for a book about whether to take a job, you've set the stakes pretty low, even if the job is assassin.
Approached by her former ex-Army lover, Sandra is given the opportunity to kill terrorists for her country. And not just kill them, but to do so in ways that are so horrific they will dissuade the others from continuing with their radical ways.
Illegal? Perhaps. Effective? Probably. Fun? Hell, yeah!
I'm as much in favor of kick ass, violent thrillers as the next shark, but I'm having a hard time with "fun." This is one of those things that can work well in a book where you have time to meet the characters and appreciate their dark humor, or coping mechanisms. In a query, this a pretty brutal thing to read.
Sandra has a more immediate concern, however: survival. Someone now knows that she’s an assassin for hire. Her primary objective is to find a way to protect herself.
Is she? I thought she'd been offered the job and was mulling it over (see paragraph one)
The non-governmental organization (NGO) who wants to hire her considers her to be the perfect candidate, largely because she can kill without remorse. Sociopathic tendencies are considered a positive when your job is to inflict terror.
This is set up, and we're five paragraphs in to the query. Either this goes earlier, or comes out.
The NGO's leader has told her that, regardless of her decision, her secret is safe. Sandra can’t afford to believe them, as much as she’d like to, even though she considers the job perfect for her.
Someone knows she's an assassin? that's what's at stake?
To protect herself, she sets up a computer file outlining what she knows about the NGO. She then contacts an old friend, US Representative Pamela Calvert. Sandra knows that her former pal, who is just as callous as she is, owes her a favor.
Sandra explains her dilemma in vague and general terms. She then asks for her friend’s help, telling her she’ll send her the file if the NGO exposes her, or through a failsafe release process should they decide to remove their risk by killing her.
Sandra’s congressional friend agrees in principle with the NGO’s goals. She also realizes that exposing the organization could provide her with much-needed positive publicity for her upcoming Senate run. Accordingly, Representative Calvert sets out to find proof of the organization’s existence, uncaring of what such exposure would mean to Sandra.
Sandra would love nothing more than to take the torture game back to the terrorists. At the same time, her primary goal of self-protection may have unfortunate consequences.
If Sandra doesn’t play her balancing act perfectly, she may end up destroying both her organization and herself. Then again, as one of Sandra’s new colleagues puts it: how can you have any fun without a little risk?
Sandra couldn’t agree more. Then again, it all depends on how you define the word ‘fun.’
Shock Force is a 92,000 word International thriller. Thank you for your time and consideration.
This is a mess. You've got way too much focus on a question that doesn't matter: will she take the job. The book doesn't work unless she does take the job, so leave all that stuff out of the query. Remember the Raymond Chandler quotes about kill your darlings. Here's where you see that in action.
Focus on what matters: Sandra's ugly job gets her killed unless…what? If she keeps the job a secret what good thing happens? What bad thing also happens? What's her skin in the game so to speak?
I know you have told us not to use sentences that begin with 'but,' 'however' or 'so.' However (hee hee), the above query seems to lend itself to the use of those words. Take the first paragraph, for example. It would seem to have more punch if it were written thusly: "Most people, when offered a new job, find the decision process fairly straightforward. But since Sandra Lee Johnson’s profession is killing people, her decision process is understandably more complex."
To me, the use of 'but' in that sentence gives the reader the instantaneous impression that what follows is going to be in opposition to what precedes it. Without that word, you don't set your emotional state to where this is going, so you have to think back to what came before to make complete sense of those two sentences. In other words, it doesn't seem to flow as well. When you read, "Since Sandra Lee Johson's . . .", you don't already know if her decision process is going to be straightforward or not, until you reach the end. It seems to be slighty more confusing without using that 'but.'
I could use the 'but' in a compound sentence, but then I'd violate your 'keep sentences short' rule. So, my question: looking at the two competing first paragraphs, which one seems to give a better impression and flow? And could you also expand on why we shouldn't start a query sentence with those banned words?
You're worrying about the wrong thing here. The query doesn't work right now. You need to revise substantially.
And using but, how, so, or and effectively is perfectly acceptable in a query. All too often they're used as filler. The way to make sure you're NOT using them as filler is to see if a sentence is stronger without them. In your case, the words aren't filler.
I don't read queries with a check list of rules or watching for banned words (well, ok, fiction novel is the exception there) I read them to find good stories I'll want to represent. Right now you're not telling me about that story.