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.