The Circle of Sodom
SUSPENSE / THRILLER POLITICAL
GOOD VS. EVIL
20th Century (multiple decades)
JACK RYAN; THE MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE; THE SUM OF ALL FEARS; THE REPORT
OWEN MACDARA: 40S. LEAD. DETERMINED AND HONORABLE.
KATE WHITESIDE: 20S. OWEN’S ROMANTIC INTEREST AND DAUGHTER OF MAJOR WHITESIDE.
TONY THACKERAY: 40S. LEADER OF THE CIRCLE OF SODOM, A CULT PLANNING TO REMOVE THE PRESIDENT FROM POWER.
SENATOR HARDY: 60S. RIGHT-WING POLITICIAN WHO’S JOINED FORCES WITH THACKERAY TO PUT THEIR OWN PEOPLE IN POWER AND PROTECT HIS BELIEFS.
GENERAL ZACH WALKER: 50S. KATE’S SECRET BIOLOGICAL FATHER, HARDY AND THACKERAY WORK TOGETHER IT HIDE THE SECRET OF HIS SEXUALITY TO KEEP HIM IN CONTROL OF THE MILITARY LEADING UP TO THEIR COUP.
MAJOR HARRY WHITESIDE: 50S, DECEASED. KATE’S FATHER WHO KNOWS WALKER’S SECRET, EXPOSED OWEN TO IT AS WELL AND WAS KILLED FOR KNOWING IT. OWEN FOLLOWS HIS NOTES TO UNCOVER THE COUP.
LOGLINE A cult leader, a militia commander and a mad senator join forces to overthrow the U.S. government - only one man can prevent the first coup d'etat in American history!
Target Gender: Universal
Korea, New York, Washington, Gloucester (Ma), Langley (Virginia), Charleston (S Carolina). Connemara (Ireland). Tennessee, Florida. Seoul (Korea), Chetecamp (Nova Scotia), Los Angeles, Baton Rouge. London, Virginia
Based on a True Story
Status: Yes: with a Publisher
Publisher: Athry House Books
Year Published: 2014
PROLOGUE The time is 1975, the place: Korea. A strange surgical procedure is performed on a mysterious US Army Colonel. The attending paramedic, Owen MacDara, is sworn to secrecy by the operating surgeon and MASH Commander, Major Henry Whiteside
TWENTY YEARS LATER The time is 1999, the place: USA. This is a thriller that exposes a threat on the Presidency, a dangerous cult that crosses continents, a right wing militia bent on revolution. All reach a high-octane conclusion, with bravery, self-sacrifice, delivering an exciting conclusion.
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Hard Copy Available
Mature Audience Themes
Plot - Other Elements
Plot - Premise
Main Character Details
Name: Owen MacDara
Key Traits: Adventurous, Confident, Decisive, Educated, Patriotic, Perseverance, Skillful,Masculine,Skillful,Confident,Patriotic,Decisive,Educated,Honorable,Leader,Sophisticated,Strong Moral Code
Additional Character Details
Name: Honorable David Anthony Llewellyn Thackeray
Key Traits: Skillful, Visionary, Villainous, Complex, Confident, Narcissistic, Secretive, Sophisticated, Aggressive, Educated, Manipulative, Power-hungry,Lone Wolf,Manipulative,Sophisticated,Narcisstic,Complex,Confident,Criminal,Decisive,Visionary,Educated,Leader
Additional Character Details
Name: General Zachary Walker
Key Traits: Complex, Honorable, Leader, Patriotic, Unapologetic, Aggressive, Educated, Empathetic, Faithful, Skillful,Masculine,Confident,Faithful,Skillful,Patriotic,Decisive,Strong Moral Code,Leader,Educated,Heroic
Additional Character Details
Name: Senator Sumner Hardy
Key Traits: Masculine,Badass,Aggressive,Complex,Confident,Patriotic,Blunt,Power Hungry,Decisive,Educated,Manipulative,Unapologetic,Leader,Outspoken
A man’s army friends from over 20 years ago begin dying in mysterious ways, leading him to investigate and discover the disappearance of another. When his own life is threatened, he digs into the missing man’s research, as he was writing a memoir before his disappearance. What he uncovers is a long-reaching conspiracy centered around the general currently in charge of the US military, one that could mean an end to democracy in the country. With the help of the only people left that he can trust, he’s able to stop a dangerous coup.
Authors Writing Style: FAIR
Franchise Potential: GOOD
Accuracy of Book Profile
For the most part the book profile does accurately reflect the book. However, the dates seem to be off. The book prologue begins in 1970, not 1975, and the first chapter opens in 1994 (not ‘95), though most of it occurs in 1995. The profile also mentions 1999, but the book ends in 1995-96, with news article references to 1996. This also means some of the ages are wrong, as if Owen is 38 in 1995, he would have been 13 serving as a paramedic in the army. He’s closer to his mid-40s. Additionally, the “Development Pitch” section is less of a pitch and more of an apology for the book in some sentences. This should focus on all the positives and why someone should read (or want to adapt) the project, not on why people might not like it but should read it anyway. This is the space in which to talk up the book, not make excuses for it.
Draw of Story
The story starts out with a mystery straight away in the prologue, with Walker’s strange surgery, and then continues in that vein when Murphy is killed. Owen unraveling what’s happening by following Whiteside’s notes is great, having to travel all over. The story is at its most compelling when Owen is working on solving the mystery, and little bits of history and backstory slowly eke out.
Much of the mystery is given away early on, because the book shows so many perspectives. The audience is often in the heads of everyone that comes across the page, and we see nearly every angle, which prevents anything from being a secret. It’s no great mystery what happened to Walker in Korea, as we’re told that from the beginning, just as we’re told Senator Hardy’s plans to take out Murphy, Jay, and Owen. This means that by the time Owen realizes that everything is connected, the audience has known it for a long time. Nearly everything that Owen uncovers for himself has already been spelled out for the reader. An adaptation would have to conceal more, as that’s the fun of a true, suspenseful mystery.
Use of Special Effects
THE STORY RELIES A LITTLE BIT ON SPECIAL EFFECTS
Primary Hook of Story
If the mystery were better concealed, that would be a huge hook to get audiences in the theater to see this movie. Owen’s chasing down leads while trying to keep himself alive, and it has some of the fun of a James Bond flick in that way. The multitude of different settings to interview various people Whiteside talked to are interesting, as is the wide cast of characters. Everyone has a slightly different outlook and a unique piece of the puzzle, and watching Owen put it together is compelling.
Thrillers can easily garner large fanbases, especially given the international nature and political implications of this story. Cults are also wildly popular on TV and in podcasts, so there’s definitely an audience for this sort of story.
This project is unlikely to have awards potential simply due to its genre, which is not often rewarded.
Similar Films/TV Series
JACK RYAN, THE MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE, THE SUM OF ALL FEARS, THE REPORT
What’s New About the Story
Owen solving the mystery of the coup is interesting, and anything to better bury the truth so the audience doesn’t already know everything will only make it more unique. The cult aspect is also very original, especially when joined hand-in-hand with the president’s political opponents. Focusing more on Thackeray and his followers will help to enliven the threat they pose and bolster the story.
Owen is an interesting character, and he’s well-drawn and distinctive. He would stand out even more without the romance angle with Kate. He’s presumably closer in age to her father (or fathers), and nearly 20 years older than her. This trope feels dated and even a little creepy since Owen never tells her the truth about her biological father. He purposely hides this knowledge from her, which borders on misogynistic given he’s making an important choice for her without her input or knowledge. The romance angle isn’t necessary, and it doesn’t add much to the story. The two could simply work together without this element, or they could even have sexual tension without acting on it. Having them in a serious relationship feels shoehorned in, and too derivative of James Bond.
Uniqueness of Story
The coup and cult aspects are very unique, but the way the story is told takes away from it being a rare gem. Better sowing the mystery will go a long way, as well as focusing more on these original aspects. Building Kate into her own character as separate from Owen would also help, as she’s currently flat. She could help him solve this, and go on her own adventures instead of being a girlfriend tag-along. Her father is missing because of all of this, and her mother was attacked; she has just as much of a reason as Owen to investigate.
Film - Streaming
WORK IN PROGRESS
The project is still a work in progress due to storytelling and a lack of emotional resonance. The romance doesn’t feel earned, and nothing Owen discovers is of great interest to the audience as most of it has already been revealed by other characters. Additionally, while it makes sense the conservative senator is trying to hide Walker’s sexuality, this aspect is very dated in today’s world.
Tips for Improvement
The fact that the protagonist is being targeted even before he figures anything out is a unique aspect, and it could be pushed even further. Having the entire story hinge around Walker’s homosexuality is dated and uncomfortable. While the story does not make any judgement calls about him being gay, and nor do the good guys, the fact that it leads to a number of people being threatened, injured, or even killed isn’t great and sends a challenging message. Changing this to something that’s actually scandalous would help. The true reason Walker gets surgery is because of a cult orgy that goes wrong, which is far more interesting — and scandalous — than simply being gay. Maybe his prior involvement in the cult would be enough of a reason for a massive cover-up, instead of the coup effectively demonizing gay sex. Overall, though, building up Kate as her own person and better hiding the mystery would improve on what’s already working on the page.
When one of his army buddies is killed and another goes missing while writing his memoirs, a man who left Korea behind long ago begins to wonder if someone is trying to cover-up surgery he witnessed and was sworn to secrecy about over 20 years ago. As the threats on his own life mount, he races to uncover a truth that leads to senators and cult leaders alike. The closer he gets, the clearer the threat to American democracy becomes.
What We Liked
The protagonist is at risk for the entire story, which is a unique and compelling way to immediately engage an audience as they fear for Owen’s life. He doesn’t let that stop him, though, and he proves to be a stalwart hero willing to sacrifice himself if it means saving the country. He’s battling against not only the political capital of the religious right, but the influence of a gregarious cult leader as well. Everywhere Owen turns, a new mystery arises, further complicating his search.
Film: Thriller is a genre practically made for film, as the suspense builds to a satisfying ending that’s perfectly buttoned by the runtime. Owen’s race to figure out who is killing his friends, and trying to kill him, would be represented at a breakneck pace as he tries to stay one step ahead of dangerous men who have friends almost everywhere. Owen survives by the skin of his teeth, and there’s never a moment the audience isn’t rooting for him to succeed.
TV: Similar to films that feature great journalists on an investigation, Owen ruthlessly tracks down what his old friend uncovered before his own death. Through tracing the other man’s footsteps, he travels far and wide, and all of these locations could feature predominantly in a television show. In future seasons, Owen could uncover more truths while serving at the president’s behest, as he’s proven his loyalty. There’s always a threat to the country, and there would be no shortage of mysteries for Owen to solve.
Key points: Great protagonist; Unraveling the mystery; Cult elements; Unique locations; Successful genre
In 1970 in Korea, senior medic OWEN MACDARA is called in to assist MAJOR WHITESIDE with an unusual surgery. He has MURPHY ARMSTRONG watch his post so he can help, and Owen attends as Whiteside removes several objects from a mysterious COLONEL’s rectum. After the colonel leaves, Whiteside swears him to secrecy. Twenty-four years later in 1994, Owen is a successful investment banker in New York. He’s set to meet Murphy and their other army buddy JAY RUSSO for dinner that evening, but Murphy is killed by an ALBINO MAN while on his way. While Owen and Jay are drinking to his memory, Owen sees on the restaurant’s TV that GENERAL WALKER has been promoted to replace the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff who just died. This puts Walker in charge of the US Armed Forces and makes him the chief military advisor to the president. Owen recognizes Walker from Korea: he was the mystery colonel.
Six months earlier, Walker is visited by Whiteside who is currently writing his memoirs. Whiteside has learned that Walker’s anal injury was not the cause of deviant homosexual behavior alone, but that he was involved in a cult orgy. He agrees to keep Walker’s secret if Walker will help get him more access in Washington. Panicked, Walker contacts SENATOR HARDY, who also knows this secret. Without Walker’s knowledge Hardy puts a plan in place to keep Whiteside and anyone else involved quiet. Hardy is secretly planning a coup with the religious right and the help of a cult run by COLONEL MCNAB called the Millennium Covenant and TONY THACKERAY, an Englishman who heads a think tank and, secretly, his own cult — the eponymous Circle of Sodom. They all have the same goal, to oust the current, liberal president and ensure they’re in charge by the millennial changeover to 2000. They need Walker as he can advise the president to stand down the military when they begin, though Walker knows none of this and left an altogether different cult he was pressured into long ago. Hardy knows that Owen is a loose end. Owen looks into Murphy’s death, as he finds it suspicious. The albino who killed Murphy has a red snake tattoo, which he later learns indicates the Circle of Sodom. In the process, two attempts on his own life are made before he makes it to the Whiteside home. Harry Whiteside is missing, and in actuality he’s been killed by men Hardy hired. Whiteside’s widow, RUTH, turns over his journal, as it’s all she has of his memoir notes. Owen also meets KATE, their adopted daughter who is part Korean. Meanwhile LIZ RUSSO, Jay’s wife with whom he has an open relationship, meets Thackeray and the two get together. She can’t divorce Jay, which she shares with Thackeray. Shortly thereafter, Jay is killed, and it’s made to look like an accident. Owen only gets more suspicious as more of his friends die. He regularly reports to BART SHIELDS, a trusted confidante who he knows from his time in Korea and now works at the NSC. Shields in turn talks to the PRESIDENT, who gives Owen permission to run this down. Owen tracks down everyone he can who Whiteside spoke with, slowly uncovering what Walker has to hide.
Owen and Kate begin dating, becoming closer even though the same people who killed her father clearly want Owen dead. He learns that Kate’s biological father is Walker, and that her biological MOTHER died in childbirth in Korea. No one knew her true identity but Walker and Whiteside, who adopted her from Walker. Owen decides not to tell Kate. He gets a tip that leads him to witness a cult ceremony of the Circle of Sodom. He recognizes the leader’s voice as being Thackeray’s. He tells Shields and the president. The only conclusion that Owen can come to is that Walker — or someone acting on his behalf — seeks to hide that he’s gay. The president talks to Walker, who spills his own past but confesses ignorance to everything else. He’s not a liberal, but he doesn’t believe in the terrifying future that Hardy, Thackeray, and McNab long for. He tells the president to look into Hardy, as he’s probably responsible. Owen goes to investigate McNab’s cult and is taken prisoner. He barely makes it out, and then he must lead a strike back into the compound at Shield’s behest wherein McNab is killed.
Liz Russo realizes that Thackeray killed Jay “for” her, and she’s horrified. Thackeray then kills her, also made to look like an accident, but not before she calls to warn Owen that they’re after Kate. Kate is kidnapped by SAL, the same man who had a hand in killing her father, but Owen rescues her. They go together to Hardy’s house, where Walker is confronting the senator for his role in all of this and telling him to let go of Kate. Hardy and Thackeray are content to let McNab take the fall for everything. In the ensuing fight, Walker dies to protect Kate, and Thackeray makes a run for it after killing Hardy. When everything has settled, Kate receives a box with a ring from the late Walker. He tells her it’s her biological mother’s, but not that he was her father. In an epilogue, Thackeray is shown to still be bent on domination, in close contact with the MAN who would soon be appointed governor of Hong Kong. An array of news clippings show that any enemies of Thackeray’s plan from within Hardy’s circle have been taken care of.