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House of Spines front

** My thanks to Karen Sullivan and Anne Cater for my copy of this wonderful book and for inviting me to be part of the blog tour ***

 

Description:

Ran McGhie’s world has been turned upside down. A young, lonely and frustrated writer, and suffering from mental-health problems, he discovers that his long-dead mother was related to one of Glasgow’s oldest merchant families. Not only that, but Ran has inherited Newton Hall, a vast mansion that belonged to his great-uncle, who appears to have been watching from afar as his estranged great-nephew has grown up. Entering his new-found home, he finds that Great-Uncle Fitzpatrick has turned it into a temple to the written word – the perfect place for poet Ran. But everything is not as it seems. As he explores the Hall’s endless corridors, Ran’s grasp on reality appears to be loosening. And then he comes across an ancient lift; and in that lift a mirror. And in the mirror … the reflection of a woman … A terrifying psychological thriller with more than a hint of the Gothic, House of Spines is a love letter to the power of books, and an exploration of how lust and betrayal can be deadly…

My Thoughts & Review:

For anyone not familiar with the superb writing of Michael J Malone I would thoroughly recommend acquainting yourself with one of his books as soon as possible, a skilled author with the ability to make readers shiver and feel the coldness that flows from the pages of his books.

With writing that is almost poetic in nature, this is beautifully written book that keeps readers guessing throughout.

Ran McGhie is an interesting character that I could not help but feel for him.  His life has been far from easy or straightforward and the way that Malone captures the subtle nuances of Ran are spectacularly spellbinding.  As Ran’s life begins to take on some major changes, Malone cleverly but subtly charts the slow descent into something not being right (I won’t call it madness, that seems to abrasive a word to use, but at the same time perhaps this character does become a little “off kilter” and lean towards a form of madness….I’ll let you decide).  Inheriting a huge house in a wealthy part of town would probably be a dream come true for most people, and here Ran is no different.  Initially he is awed by the library and the books that his great uncle has bestowed upon him, but soon he feels a haunting presence and begins to question what happens around him.
I am loathe to say more about the plot, I hate spoilers and think that readers experience the full impact of the plot on their own.

This has all the hallmarks of a great read, it’s creepy and leaves the reader questioning whether that was just a shadow they caught out of the corner of their eye…but it also makes you feel a little uncomfortable as you slowly follow Ran into the darkness of uncertainty.  With the mental health issues that the protagonist suffers being incorporated into the plot, it becomes almost impossible to be certain whether Ran is suffering from delusions linked to his condition or whether these events are actually happening.
On top of all this, the descriptions of Newton Hall are utterly spectacular and I think that Malone has really outdone himself here.  I could feel the looming menace that lurked within the house, I was aware of a feeling of claustrophobia while Ran was in the house, although there was splendour and beauty it was also a place of unknown danger and mystery.

There’s a feeling of safety with a book published by Orenda Books, each book has made an impression on Karen Sullivan and in turn she and her team have lavished love and attention on each page of a manuscript  before delivering a book to readers that will wow and delight.  When I initially saw this book being dubbed a “modern day horror story with a twist” I was a little hesitant, I don’t read many horror stories, they just don’t do anything for me.  But I had faith in the publisher and the friends who recommended this book to me and I was not disappointed.

You can buy a copy of “House of Spines” via:

Amazon
Wordery
Orenda eBookstore

 

Follow the blog tour:

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The Other Twin cover

Published 1st August 2017

Description:

When India falls to her death from a bridge over a railway, her sister Poppy returns home to Brighton for the first time in years. Unconvinced by official explanations, Poppy begins her own investigation into India’s death. But the deeper she digs, the closer she comes to uncovering deeply buried secrets. Could Matthew Temple, the boyfriend she abandoned, be involved?

And what of his powerful and wealthy parents, and his twin sister, Ana?
Enter the mysterious and ethereal Jenny: the girl Poppy discovers after hacking into India’s laptop. What exactly is she hiding, and what did India find out about her?

Taking the reader on a breathless ride through the winding lanes of Brighton, into its vibrant party scene and inside the homes of its well-heeled families, The Other Twin is a startling and up-to-the-minute thriller about the social-media world, where resentments and accusations are played out online, where identities are made and remade, and where there is no such thing as the truth…

You can buy your copy of The Other Twin via:

Amazon

Wordery

The Book Depository


Praise for The Other Twin

‘If your sister died under suspicious circumstances, how far would you go to uncover the truth? The Other Twin crackles with tension as Poppy’s search for answers leads only to more questions, her grief palpable and real as she learns her sister India’s deepest secrets. Hays’ impressive debut is a complex, twisty, disorienting tale that truly keeps readers guessing until the very end’
Karen Dionne

‘A cracker of a debut! I couldn’t put it down’
Paula Daly

‘The writing shines from every page of this twisted tale … debuts don’t come sharper than this’
Ruth Dugdall

‘This chilling claustrophobic tale set in Brighton introduces an original, fresh new voice in crime fiction’
Cal Moriarty

‘Wonderfully layered and gripping, I had to take breaks just to catch my breath’
Jendella Benson

“A fresh and raw thrill-ride through Brighton’s underbelly. What an enjoyable read!”
Lilja Sigurðardóttir

Slick and compulsive’
Random Things through My Letterbox

‘A propulsive, inventive and purely addictive psychological thriller for the social media age’
Crime by the Book

‘Delightfully disorientating’
Chapter in My Life

‘This will stay with me forever’
Emma the Little Bookworm

‘A whirlwind of secrets and emotional turmoil’
Cheryl M-M

‘Rolls along at a heart-pounding pace!’
Ronnie Turner

‘A contemporary thriller with a heart of darkness … terrific’
Live & Deadly

‘Blinding, surprising and simply magnificent’
Chocolate ‘n’ Waffles

 

About the Author:

Lucy Hay author photo

Lucy V. Hay is a novelist, script editor and blogger who helps writers via her Bang2write consultancy. She is the associate producer of Brit Thrillers Deviation (2012) and Assassin (2015), both starring Danny Dyer. Lucy is also head reader for the London Screenwriters’ Festival and has written two non-fiction books, Writing & Selling Thriller Screenplays, plus its follow-up Drama Screenplays. She lives in Devon with her husband, three children, six cats and five African Land Snails.

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wolves in the dark cover

Description:

Reeling from the death of his great love, Karin, Varg Veum’s life has descended into a self-destructive spiral of alcohol, lust, grief and blackouts. When traces of child pornography are found on his computer, he’s accused of being part of a paedophile ring and thrown into a prison cell. There, he struggles to sift through his past to work out who is responsible for planting the material … and who is seeking the ultimate revenge. When a chance to escape presents itself, Varg finds himself on the run in his hometown of Bergen. With the clock ticking and the police on his tail, Varg takes on his hardest – and most personal – case yet. Chilling, shocking and exceptionally gripping, Wolves in the Dark reaffirms Gunnar Staalesen as one of the world’s foremost thriller writers.

My Thoughts & Review:

Impressively, this is the 21st book in the Varg Veum series, and indeed 2017 marks the 40th anniversary of the series – the sign of an amazing character and author I would say!  And whilst not all of Gunnar Staalesen’s books are not available in English, it is possible to become utterly immersed in this series as you read.  The previous books “We Shall Inherit the Wind” and “Where Roses Never Die” have been published by Orenda Books and are available to buy now.

Varg Veum is a fantastic character that most readers will take to, despite his flaws and obvious dependence on alcohol, readers will connect with him and will find they are quietly cheering him on when things get tough.
The blossoming relationship with his new girlfriend is put under immense pressure when he is arrested for being part of a paedophile ring and for the possession of child pornography.  His reputation is hanging by a very frayed thread and he needs to work out quickly who is setting him up and why.  If I say anything else about the plot I fear that I will give something away (zips mouth shut).

With a plot revolving around a sensitive topic, this could make for difficult reading.  But I do believe that Staalesen has handled it well without becoming overly graphic and certainly includes only what is necessary to enhance the plot.  This is a hard hitting novel that truly encapsulates the very essence of Scandi Noir and I can see why this series and character have been so successful.  There’s an elegance in the writing, the plot is so intricate and clever that it challenges the reader, it’s not the sort of book to half look at whilst cooking the supper that’s for sure (yes I did burn the supper whilst reading this book and no I don’t recommend taking your eyes off the oven, otherwise the toad in the hole will be VERY caramelised).
The skill in bringing Veum to life was astounding, the more I read of this book the more I felt that he was real and found myself enjoying his sense of humour.

A fantastic instalment in the series and I cannot wait for more!!

It’s only right to make mention of Don Bartlett’s translation, again an impeccable job with a seamless translation.

You can buy a copy of “Wolves in the Dark” via:
Amazon
Wordery
The Book Depository

 

My heartfelt thanks to Karen Sullivan and Anne Cater for the opportunity to read an early copy of this and for inviting me to participate in the blog tour.

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Published: 15 June 2017

Description:

A chilling, exquisitely written and evocative thriller set in the Lake District, centring on the obsessive relationship that develops between two writers…

Bo Luxton has it all – a loving family, a beautiful home in the Lake District, and a clutch of bestselling books to her name.

Enter Alice Dark, an aspiring writer who is drifting through life, with a series of dead-end jobs and a freeloading boyfriend.

When they meet at a writers’ retreat, the chemistry is instant, and a sinister relationship develops… Or does it?

Breathlessly pacey, taut and terrifying, Exquisite is a startlingly original and unbalancing psychological thriller that will keep you guessing until the very last page.

My Thoughts & Review:

Never before has a book been so perfectly titled, the writing, the plotting, the characterisation, the setting are all utterly exquisite.  There is a raw intensity in this book that is so thought provoking and continuously challenges the reader.  I absolutely loved this book and devoured it in a day, it’s always a good sign with me when I cannot bear to put a book down.

The plot is so clever and so sinister.  All the time I was reading it I was mindful of the passages from the Women’s Prison in Yorkshire, wondering which of the characters had ended up there, guessing and second guessing after reading the chapters that followed.
I loved the way that the reader is left wondering which of the lead characters is the unreliable narrator, and by giving the reader Bo’s point of view initially,  Stovell has very cleverly set the groundwork for her masterful plan.   The flaws of both characters are laid bare for the reader to judge as they chose.  The juxtaposition of how fate plays out for both of these characters is almost poetic – both are from broken backgrounds, neither has a good relationship with their mother and indeed suffered directly and indirectly by their hands, and the psychology of it is well played out through the development of Bo and Alice.

The way that this leaves a reader feeling so disturbed whilst reading is key, it almost drives the reader on to find out if they are right, to see whether their suspicions are right, and the way in which it builds to the penultimate section, so intense and riveting, if readers can guess what is going to happen next I’d be amazed!  I didn’t see what was coming at all, and I’ve read many thrillers (too many in some cases!) but this caught me well and truly off guard and I absolutely loved it!

The descriptions of settings in this are perfection, having been to the Lakes many times I felt that the writing really conjured some amazing imagery in my head, the way in which Grasmere was described made me feel that I was transported to the village and was craving Grasmere gingerbread.
I have no doubt that this book will feature heavily in the top books of 2017  with many readers, and it absolutely deserves to!  A truly magnificent debut from a promising author, and quite possibly one of the finest thrillers I’ve read this year!
You can buy a copy of “Exquisite” via:
Follow the blog tour:
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Published: 15 May 2017

Description:

Falkenberg, Sweden. The mutilated body of talented young jewellery designer, Linnea Blix, is found in a snow-swept marina. Hampstead Heath, London. The body of a young boy is discovered with similar wounds to Linnea’s. Buchenwald Concentration Camp, 1944. In the midst of the hell of the Holocaust, Erich Hebner will do anything to see himself as a human again. Are the two murders the work of a serial killer, and how are they connected to shocking events at Buchenwald? Emily Roy, a profiler on loan to Scotland Yard from the Canadian Royal Mounted Police, joins up with Linnea’s friend, French true-crime writer Alexis Castells, to investigate the puzzling case. They travel between Sweden and London, and then deep into the past, as a startling and terrifying connection comes to light. Plumbing the darkness and the horrific evidence of the nature of evil, Block 46 is a multi-layered, sweeping and evocative thriller that heralds a stunning new voice in French Noir.

My Thoughts & Review:

Block 46 is quite possibly one of the most magnificent books I have read, it’s absolutely flawlessly plotted, rich in characters and has an astounding level of detail woven into it.  There are so many layers to this novel that it’s hard to begin to describe just how powerful this is.

The uppermost layer of the plot is a murder investigation, one which sparks tangents shooting off like electrical currents in several directions.
Linnea Blix is a much loved and talented jewellery designer so her failure to appear at the grand unveiling of her latest collection is worrying.  When her naked and mutilated corpse is discovered is Sweden, red flags are raised because of the resemblance to a case being investigated in London.  The best friend of Blix is writer Alexis Castells, who soon ends up working with profiler Emily Roy in a bid to discovering her killer.

From here the reader is drawn into a dark thriller that is rife with tension and utterly unnerving.
Johana Gustawsson then adds in another layer to “Block 46”  by incorporating a timeline from 1944 where a young man named Erich Hebner is incarcerated in Buchenwald Concentration Camp.  It is through glimpses of the horrendous and torturous conditions that the reader experiences some of the most harrowing storytelling.  The skill that Gustawsson exhibits in her writing is immense, she details the abhorrent conditions so that the audience is fully aware of the violence, lack of humanity and evil that emanated from the Camps and the ruling forces.

And if this wasn’t enough to make this book standout, then take a look at the characters involved.  A colourful collection of personalities make for some incredibly interesting reading, Alexis Castells and Emily Roy are superb characters, both strong in their own ways, and have qualities that are vital to the roles they play.  Alexis Castells is caring and warm, she is a calming influence on those around her but underneath it all she bears the scars of her past.  Emily Roy on the other hand is a wonderful contrast to this, her clinical approach to her work and interactions can be seen as blunt and cold but she almost needs to be that way in order to do the job that she does.
The glimpses into the mind of the killer that are sprinkled throughout the narrative give an insight into a truly twisted and chilling persona.  There is no doubting that this is a very dangerous individual who enjoys the thrill of the hunt when it comes to victims, and the sheer elation felt when a kill and torture sequence has been complete.

If shock value is what you are looking for then this is the book for you, there are some moments in this that you almost need reminders to keep breathing, the urge to hold your breath in anticipation is high.  The way that Johana Gustawsson plants the seeds of suspicion in the heads of her readers is cleverly done, many will read this book and all the while be trying to guess ahead as to who the killer is, what the motive is etc and good luck is all I can say.  This was a book that well and truly caught me off guard, there were aspects of the plot that I would never have guessed.

I want to offer my thanks to Maxim Jakubowski for the wonderful translation of this book from French into English, it takes incredible skill to translate any document from one language to another and here I feel that the skills of the translator deserve a round of applause as this book reads to well that you could be forgiven for thinking it had originally been penned in English.

My heartfelt thanks to Karen Sullivan and Anne Cater for sharing this epic novel with me and for having me host this stop on the blog tour.

 

You can buy your copy of “Block 46” via:

Amazon
Orenda Books eBookstore
Wordery
The Book Depository

Don’t forget to check out the other stops on the blog tour!

FINAL block 46 blog tour poster

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Hello and welcome to my stop on the blog tour for Paul E. Hardisty’s latest thriller to feature vigilante justice-seeker Claymore Straker.  I am delighted to share an extract with you from Paul’s novel, so sit back and enjoy!

Description:

Reconciliation for the Dead aw.indd

Fresh from events in Yemen and Cyprus, vigilante justice-seeker Claymore Straker returns to South Africa, seeking absolution for the sins of his past. Over four days, he testifies to Desmond Tutu’s newly established Truth and Reconciliation Commission, recounting the shattering events that led to his dishonourable discharge and exile, fifteen years earlier. It was 1980. The height of the Cold War. Clay is a young paratrooper in the South African Army, fighting in Angola against the Communist insurgency that threatens to topple the White Apartheid regime. On a patrol deep inside Angola, Clay, and his best friend, Eben Barstow, find themselves enmeshed in a tangled conspiracy that threatens everything they have been taught to believe about war, and the sacrifices that they, and their brothers in arms, are expected to make. Witness and unwitting accomplice to an act of shocking brutality, Clay changes allegiance and finds himself labelled a deserter and accused of high treason, setting him on a journey into the dark, twisted heart of institutionalised hatred, from which no one will emerge unscathed. Exploring true events from one of the most hateful chapters in South African history, Reconciliation for the Dead is a shocking, explosive and gripping thriller from one finest writers in contemporary crime fiction.

You can buy a copy of “Reconciliation for the Dead” via:

Amazon
Orenda Books eBookstore
The Book Depository
Wordery


Book Extract:

Prologue
12th October 1996 Maputo, Mozambique

Claymore Straker stood in the long bar of the Polana Hotel, drained the whisky from his glass and looked out across gardens and swaying palms to the drowning mid-afternoon chop of the Indian Ocean. For the second time in his life, he’d been forced to flee the country of his birth. Two weeks ago he’d crossed the border, made his way to the ocean, and arrived here. Back again in the land of spirits, he’d determined that, this time, he would disappear forever. And then Crowbar had showed up. Just how his old platoon commander had managed to find him, he still had no idea. Crowbar had simply lumbered into the little café near the Parque de Continuadores and sat opposite him as if meeting for coffee in Mozambique was something they did every day. They didn’t talk long. Ten minutes later he was gone, vanished into the braying confusion of the city.
And Crowbar had been right, of course. About the things you couldn’t change. About the apportionment of blame. About everything. But the relics Crowbar had left on the table that day – the canister of 35 mm film now clutched hard in Clay’s right fist, still undeveloped after all these years; the blood-stained notebook now thrust deep in his jacket pocket – had changed everything. History has a way of orbiting back at you; and promises, he now knew, while they may be broken, never die.
After he’d made the decision, it had taken the better part of a week to track her down. Time he didn’t have. In the end it had been Hamour, a one-time colleague of hers from Agence France Presse in Istanbul, who had provided the breakthrough. Although Hamour hadn’t spoken to her for more than six months, he’d heard that she’d gone to Paris. He’d given Clay the name of an associate on the foreign desk there. It was enough. Clay had been able to convince the guy that he had a story worth telling, and that only she could tell it.
He’d had her number for over twenty-four hours now, but each time he’d picked up the phone, he’d stopped mid-dial, overcome. He wasn’t sure why, exactly. Perhaps it was because of the burden he’d asked to her carry once before, the guilt he still felt. Maybe it was because of what they’d almost shared – and then lost. Memory is a strange, malleable, and, he had come to realise, wholly undependable quantity. And nothing, it seemed, was immune from time’s inexorable winnowing, that hollowing erosion that, eventually, pulled the life from everything.
‘Mais um,’ Clay said, pointing to his glass. One more.
The barman poured. Clay drank.
It hadn’t been that long ago, really. Thirteen years. He’d arrived here in late ’81, in the middle of a civil war; left in early ’83. And now he was back. The place looked different, the whole city built up now – all the new peace-time buildings. Even this hotel, the grand old lady of Maputo, had undergone a facelift. The old, caged, rosewood elevator was still here; the bar with its marble tiles and teak counters; the same palm trees outside, that much older. But so much of the past had been shaken off like dust, the dead skin of years peeled away in layers. And now that he was back in Africa, it was as if he’d never left.
A uniformed bellhop approached and glanced at Clay’s stump, the place where his left hand should be. ‘Senhor?’ That look on the guy’s face. Clay nodded, reached under his jacket, ran the fingers of his right hand across the rough meshed surface of the pistol’s grip.
‘Your call is through, Senhor.’
Clay finished his drink and followed the bellhop to the telephone cabinets near the front desk. He scanned the lobby, closed the door behind him and picked up the phone.
‘Allo? Who is this?’ Her voice. Her, there, on the other end of the line.
He could hear her breathing, her lips so close to the mouthpiece, so far away. ‘Rania, it’s me.’
A pause, silence. And then: ‘Claymore?’
‘Yes, Ra. It’s me.’
‘Mon Dieu,’ she gasped. ‘Where are you, Claymore?’
‘Africa. I came back. Like you told me to.’
‘Claymore, I didn’t…’ She stopped, breathless.
‘I need your help, Rania.’
‘Are you alright, Claymore?’ The concern in her voice sent a bloom of warmth pulsing through his chest.
‘I’m … I’m okay, Rania.’
‘C’est bon, chéri. That is good.’ And then in a whisper. ‘I’m sorry for what happened between us, Clay.’
‘Me too.’
‘Thank you so much for the money. It has made a big difference.’
‘I’m glad.’
‘I never thanked you.’
He wasn’t going to ask her.
‘Are you going to testify, Claymore? Is that why you are there?’
‘I’ve already done it.’
‘That is good, chéri. I am proud of you. How was it?’
As he’d left the Central Methodist Mission after the first day, the spectators had lined both sides of the corridor, three and four deep. At first, they stood in shocked silence as he walked past. But soon the curses came. And then they spat on him.
Clay cradled the handpiece between his right shoulder and chin, covered his eyes with his hand a moment, drew his fingers down over the topography his face, the ridgeline of scar tissue across his right cheek, the coarse stubble of his jaw. He breathed, felt the tropical air flow into his lungs.
‘I need your help, Rania. It’s important.’
A long pause, and then: ‘What can I do?’
‘I need you to come to Maputo.’
‘Mozambique? Is that where you are?’
‘Yes.’
‘When?’
‘As soon as you can.’
Voices in the background, the screams of children, a playground. ‘Rania?’
‘Clay, cheri, please understand, it is not so easy. I have obligations.’
‘I have a story for you, Rania, one the world needs to know.’
‘Clay, I … I cannot. I am sorry. Things have changed. I am very busy.’
‘A lot of people have died for this, Rania.’
A sharp intake of breath.
‘And it’s still going on. The guy is still in his post. After all this time. It’s fucking outrageous.’
‘Slow down, Claymore.’
‘I tried to find him, rania. They said he was in Libya, but I know he’s still here.’
‘Who, Claymore? Who are you speaking of?’
‘O Médico de Morte.’ ‘
Claymore, please. You are not making sense. Is that Portuguese?
“The Doctor of Death”?’
‘That’s what they called him in Angola, during the war. I never told you about it. It was too … too hard.’ There were a lot of things he hadn’t told her.
‘What does this have to do with you, Claymore?’
‘I don’t have time to explain now, Rania. You have to come.’
‘Let me think about it, Claymore. I need some time, please. Can I call you back?’
‘When?’
‘At least a few days. A week.’
‘I don’t have that long, Rania. They’re after me.’
‘Mon Dieu, Claymore. What is happening?’
‘I can’t tell you over the phone, Rania.’
‘Who is after you? What is going on, Claymore?’
‘I’ll tell you when you get here.’
‘Alright, Claymore. Call me in two days. I will see what I can arrange.’
‘Thanks, Rania. Two days. This time. This number.’
Clay was about to hang up when he heard her call out.
‘Claymore.’
‘What is it Rania?’
‘Clay, I—’
‘Not now, Rania. Please, not now.’
Before she could answer, Clay killed the line. He cradled the handpiece and walked across the polished marble of the lobby to the hotel’s front entrance. A porter held the door open for him. He stood on the front steps and looked out across the Indian Ocean.
The sea breeze caressed his face. He closed his eyes and felt time fold back on itself.

Part I

No Longer Knowing

Fifteen Years Earlier: 22nd June 1981,  Latitude 16° 53’S; Longitude 18° 27’E,  Southern Angola

Claymore Straker looked down the sight of his South African Armscor-made r4 assault rifle at the target and waited for the signal to open fire.
For almost a year after leaving school to enlist, the targets had been paper. The silhouette of a black man, head and torso, but lacking dimension. Or rather, as he had now started to understand, lacking many dimensions. Blood and pain – surely. Hope and fear – always. But more specifically, the 5.56 mm perforations now wept blood rather than sunlight. The hollow-point rounds flowered not into wood, but through the exquisite machinery of life, a whole universe of pain exploding inside a single body – infinity contained within something perilously finite.
Just into his twenty-first year, Claymore Straker lay prone in the short, dry grass and listened to the sound of his own heart. Just beyond the tree line, framed in the pulsing pin and wedge of his gunsight, the silhouette of a man’s head moved through the underbrush. He could see the distinctive FAPLA cap, the man’s shoulders patched with sweat, the barrel of his rifle catching the sunlight. The enemy soldier slowed, turned, stopped, sniffed the air. Opal eyes set in skin black as fresh-blasted anthracite. At a hundred metres – less – it was an easy shot.
Sweat tracked across Clay’s forehead, bit his eyes. The target blurred. He blinked away the tears and brought the man’s chest back into focus. And for those few moments they shared the world, killer and victim tethered by all that was yet to be realised, the rehearsed choreography of aim and fire, the elegant ballistics of destruction. The morning air was kinetic with the hum of a trillion insects. Airbursts of cumulus drifted over the land like a year of promised tomorrows, each instant coming hard and relentless like a heartbeat. Now. And now. And above it all, the African sky spread whole and perfect and blue, an eternal witness.
A mosquito settled on the stretched thenar of Clay’s trigger hand, that web of flesh between thumb and forefinger. The insect paused, raised its thorax, perched a moment amidst a forest of hairs. It looked so fragile, transparent there in the sun, its inner structure revealed in x-ray complexity. He watched it flex its body then raise its proboscis. For a half-stalled moment it hovered there, above the surface of his skin, and then lanced into his hand. He felt the prick, the penetration, the pulsing injection of anaesthetic and anti-coagulant, and then the simultaneous reversal of flow, the hungry sucking as the insect started to fill itself with his blood. Clay filled his sights with his target’s torso, caressed the trigger with the palp of his finger as the insect completed its violation.
Come on.
Blood pumping. Here. There. Come on.
The mosquito, heavy with blood, thorax swollen crimson, pulled out.
What are we waiting for?
He is twenty, with a bullet. Too young to know that this might be the moment he takes his final breath. To know that today’s date might be the one they print in his one-line obituary in the local paper. To understand that the last time he had done something – walked in the mountains, kissed a girl, swam or sang or dreamed or loved – could be the last time he ever would. unable yet to comprehend that, after he was gone, the world would go on exactly as if he had never existed.
It was a hell of a thing.
The signal. Open fire.
Clay exhaled as he’d been taught and squeezed the trigger. The detonation slamming through his body. The lurch of the rifle in his hands. The bullet hurtling to its target. Ejected brass spinning away. Bullets shredding the tree line, scything the grass. Hell unleashed. Hades, here. right here.
The target was gone. He had no idea if he’d hit it. Shouting coming from his right, a glimpse of someone moving forwards at a crouch. His platoon commander. Muzzle flashes, off to the left. rounds coming in. That sound of mortality shooting into the base of his skull, little mouthfuls of the sound barrier snapping shut all around him.
Clay aimed at one of the muzzle flashes, squeezed off five quick rounds, rolled left, tried to steady himself, fired again. His heart hammered in his chest, adrenaline punching through him, wild as a teenage drunk. A round whipped past his head, so close he could feel it on his cheek. A lover’s caress. Jesus in Heaven.
He looked left. A face gleaming with sweat, streaked with dirt. Blue eyes wide, staring at him; perfect white teeth, huge grin. Kruger, the new kid, two weeks in, changing mags. A little older than Clay, just twenty-one, but so inestimably younger. As if a decade had been crammed into six months. A lifetime.
‘Did you see that?’ Kruger yelled over the roar. ‘Fokken nailed the kaffir.’
Clay banged off the last three rounds of his mag, changed out. ‘Shut up and focus,’ he yelled, the new kid so like Clay had been when he’d first gone over, so eager to please, so committed to the cause they were fighting for, to everything their fathers and politicians had told them this was about. It was the difference between believing – as Kruger did now – and no longer knowing what you believed.
And now they were up and moving through the grass, forwards through the smoke: Liutenant Van Boxmeer – Crowbar as everyone called him – their platoon commander, shouting them ahead, leading as always, almost to the trees; Kruger on Clay’s left; Eben on his right, sprinting across the open ground towards the trees.
They’d been choppered into Angola early that morning; three platoons of parabats – South African paratroopers – sent to rescue a uNITA detachment that had been surrounded and was under threat of being wiped out. A call had come in from the very top, and they’d been scrambled to help. uNITA, União Nacional para a Independência Total de Angola – South Africa’s ally in the struggle against communism in Southern Africa – were fighting the rival MPLA, the Movimento Popular de Libertação de Angola, and its military wing FAPLA, Forças Armadas Populares de Libertação de Angola, for control of the country. uNITA and MPLA were once united in their struggle to liberate Angola from Portugal. But when that was achieved in 1975, they split along ideological lines: MPLA supported by the Soviet union and its allies; uNITA by South Africa and, some said, America. That was what they had been told by the Colonel of the battalion, anyway. The Soviets were pouring weapons and equipment into FAPLA, bolstering it with tens of thousands of troops from Cuba, East Germany and the Soviet union itself, transforming FAPLA from a lightly armed guerrilla force into a legitimate army. As a consequence, things were not going well for uNITA, and it was up to them to do everything they could to help. South Africa was in mortal danger of being overrun by the communists; their whole way of life was threatened. This was the front line; this was where they had to make their stand. Everything they held dear – their families, their womenfolk, their homes and farms – all would be taken, enslaved, destroyed if they were not successful. It was life or death.
Clay remembered the day he left for active service, waiting at the train station, his duffel bag over his shoulder, his mother in tears on the platform, his father strong, proud. That was the word he’d used. Proud. He’d taken Clay’s hand in his, looked him in the eyes, and said it: I’m proud of you, son. Do your duty. It was just like in the books he’d read about the Second World War. And he had felt proud, righteous too, excited. He couldn’t quite believe it was happening to him. That he could be so lucky. He was going to war.
That was the way he remembered it, anyway.
Clay reached the trees – scrub mopane – Kruger and Eben still right and left, on line. They stopped, dropped to one knee. It was the middle of the dry season, everything withered and brown. Crowbar was about twenty metres ahead, standing beside the body of a dead FAPLA fighter, the radio handset pushed up to his ear, Steyn, his radio operator, crouching next to him. By now the shooting had stopped.
‘What’s happening?’ said Kruger.
Eben smiled at him. ‘That, young private, is a question for which there is no answer, now or ever.’
The kid frowned.
Eben took off his bush hat, ran his hand through the straw of his hair. ‘And the reason, kid, is that no one knows. The sooner you accept that, the better it will be. For all of us. read Descartes.’
Clay glanced over at Eben and smiled. Another dose of the clean truth from Eben Barstow, philosopher. That’s what he called it. The clean truth.
Kruger looked at Eben with eyes wide. ‘read?’ he said.
Eben shook his head.
Crowbar was up now, facing them. He looked left and right a moment, as if connecting with each of them individually. And then quick, precise hand signals: hostiles ahead, this way, through the trees, two hundred metres. And then he was off, moving through the scrub, the radio operator scrambling to keep up.
Kruger looked like he was going to shit himself. Maybe he already had.
‘Here we go, kid,’ said Eben, pulling his hat back on. ‘Stay with us. Keep low. You’ll be fine.’
And then they were moving through the trees, everything underfoot snapping and cracking so loud as to be heard a hundred miles away, a herd of buffalo crashing towards the guns. The first mortar round hurtled in before they’d gone fifty metres.
It landed long, the concussion wave pushing them forwards like a shove in the back. They upped the pace, crashing through the underbrush, half blind, mortar rounds falling closer behind, the wind at their backs, smoke drifting over them. Clay’s foot hit something: a log, a root. Something smashed into his stomach, doubling him over, collapsing his diaphragm. He fell crashing into a tangle of bush, rolled over, gasped for breath. And then, moments later, a flash, a kick in the side of the head, clumps of earth and bits of wood raining down on him. Muffled sounds coming to him now, dull thuds deep in his chest, felt rather than heard, and then scattered pops, like the sound of summer raindrops on a steel roof, fat and sporadic; and something else – was it voices?
He tried to breathe. Sand and dead leaves choked his mouth, covered his face. He spat, tearing the dirt from his eyes. A dull ache crept through his chest. He moved his hands over his body, checking the most important places first. But he was intact, unhurt. Jesus. He lay there a moment, a strange symphony warbling in his head. He opened his eyes. Slowly, his vision cleared. He was alone.
Smoke enveloped him, the smell of burning vegetation, cordite. He pushed himself to his knees and groped for his r4. He found it half buried, pulled it free and staggered to his feet. The sounds of gunfire came clearer now, somewhere up ahead. He checked the r4’s action, released the mag, blew the dust free, reinserted it, sighted. The foresight was covered in a tangle of roots. Shit. He flipped on the safety, inspected the muzzle. The barrel was clogged with dirt. He must have spiked the muzzle into the ground when he fell, driven the butt into his stomach. Stupid. unacceptable.
Ahead, the grind of Valk 2’s MAG somewhere on the right, the bitter crack of AK47s. Smoke swirling around him, a flicker of orange flame. The bush was alight. He stumbled away from the flames, moved towards the sounds of battle, staggering half blind through the smoke. There was no way his r4 could be fired without disassembling and cleaning it. He felt like a rookie. Crowbar would have a fit.
By the time he reached Eben and the others, the fight was over. It hadn’t lasted long. Valk 3 had caught most of the FAPLA fighters in enfilade at the far end of the airstrip, turned their flank and rolled them up against Valk 5. It was a good kill, Crowbar said. And Valk 5 had taken no casualties. One man wounded in Valk 3, pretty seriously they said: AK round through the chest, collapsed lung. Casevac on the way. They counted sixteen enemy bodies.
Crowbar told them to dig in, prepare for a counterattack, while he went to meet up with the uNITA doffs they’d just rescued. The platoon formed a wide perimeter around the northern length of the airstrip and linked in on both flanks with Valk 3 and Valk 2. Their holes were farther apart than they would have liked, but it would have to do. After all, they were parabats – South African paratroopers – the best of the best. That’s what they’d been taught. Here, platoons were called Valk; Afrikaans for hawk. Death from above. Best body count ratio in Angola.
Once the holes were dug and the OPs set, they collected the FAPLA dead, piling the bodies in a heap at the end of the airstrip. A few of the parabats sliced off ears and fingers as trophies, took photos. Behind them, the trees blazed, grey anvils of smoke billowing skywards. Clay stood a long time and watched the forest burn.
‘Once more ejected from the breach,’ said Eben, staring out at the blaze.
Clay looked at his friend, at the streaks of dirt on his face, the sweat beading his bare chest. ‘Where’s Kruger?’
Eben glanced left and right. ‘I thought he was with you.’
‘I got knocked down before we got fifty metres. Never saw anyone till it was all over. Never fired a shot.’ He showed Eben his r4.
‘I never took you for a pacifist, bru.’ Eben jutted his chin towards the pile of corpses. ‘You must be very disappointed to have missed out.’
Clay gazed at the bodies, the way the limbs entwined, embraced, the way the mouths gaped, dark with flies. This was their work, the accounting of it. He wondered what he felt about it. ‘I better get this cleaned, or the old man will kill me,’ he said.
Eben nodded. ‘I’ll go find Kruger. No telling what trouble that kid will get himself into.’
Clay nodded and went back to his hole. All down the line, the other members of the platoon were digging in, sweating under the Ovamboland sun. He dug for a while and was fishing in his pack for his cleaning kit when Eben jogged up, out of breath.
‘Can’t find Kruger anywhere, bru. No one’s seen him.’
‘He’s got to be around somewhere. Crowbar said no casualties. Did you check the other Valk?’
‘Not yet.’
Clay shouldered his r4. ‘Let’s go find Crowbar. Maybe he’s with him.’
They found Liutenant Van Boxmeer towards the western end of the airstrip, radioman at his side. He was arguing with a black Angolan uNITA officer dressed in a green jungle-pattern uniform and a tan beret. The officer wore reflective aviator ray-Bans and carried a pair of nickel-plated .45 calibre 1911s strapped across his chest. Beyond, a couple of dozen uNITA fighters, ragged and stunned, slouched around a complex of sandbagged bunkers. As Clay and Eben approached, the two men lowered their voices.
Clay and Eben saluted.
Crowbar looked them both square in the eyes, nodded.
‘Kruger’s missing, my Liutenant,’ said Eben in Afrikaans.
Crowbar looked up at the sky. ‘When was he seen last?’
‘Just before the advance through the trees,’ said Clay.
Crowbar’s gaze drifted to the muzzle of Clay’s r4. Clay could feel himself burn.
‘Find him,’ said Crowbar. ‘But do it fast. FAPLA pulled back, but they’re still out there. Mister Mbdele here figures we can expect a counterattack before nightfall.’
‘Colonel,’ said the uNITA officer.
‘What?’ said Crowbar.
‘I am Colonel Mbdele.’ He spoke Afrikaans with a strong Portuguese accent. His voice was stretched, shaky.
‘Your mam must be so proud,’ said Crowbar.
Eben smirked.
The Colonel whipped off his sunglasses and glared at Eben. The thyroid domes of his eyes bulged out from his face, the cornea flexing out over fully dilated pupils so that the blood-veined whites seemed to pulse with each beat of his heart. ‘Control your … your men, Liutenant,’ he shouted, reaching for the grip of one of his handguns. A huge diamond solitaire sparked in his right earlobe. His face shone with sweat. ‘We have work here. Important work.’
Crowbar glanced down at the man’s hand, shaking on the grip of his still-holstered pistol. ‘What work would that be, exactly, Colonel?’ he said, jutting his chin towards the FAPLA men lounging outside the bunker.
As the Colonel turned his head to look, Crowbar slipped his fighting knife from its point-up sheath behind his right hip.
Mbdele was facing them again, his nickel-plated handgun now halfway out of its holster, trembling in his sweat-soaked hand. The metal gleamed in the sun. Crowbar had closed the gap between them and now stood within striking distance of the uNITA officer, knife blade up against his wrist, where Mbdele couldn’t see it.
‘FAPLA will attack soon,’ shouted Mbdele, his voice cracking, his eyes pivoting in their sockets. He waved his free hand back towards the bunker. ‘This position must be defended. At all costs.’
Crowbar was poised, free hand up in front of him now, palm open, inches from Mbdele’s pistol hand, the knife at his side, still hidden. Clay held his breath.
‘And what’s so fokken important that you brought us all this way, meu amigo?’ said Crowbar in a half-whisper.
Mbdele took a step back, but Crowbar followed him like a dance partner, still just inches away.
‘I said, what’s so fokken important?’
‘Classified. Not your business,’ shouted Mbdele, spittle flying. ‘These are your orders. Your orders. Check. Call your commanders on the radio.’
Crowbar stood a moment, shaking his head and muttering something under his breath. ‘And here are your orders, Colonel,’ he said. ‘You and your men get the fok out there and cover our left flank, in case FAPLA tries to come in along the river.’
Sweat poured from the Colonel’s face, beaded on his forearms. ‘Não, Liutenant,’ he gasped as if short of breath. ‘No. We stay here. Aqui.’ He pointed towards the bunker complex. ‘My orders are to guard this. And your orders are to protect us.’
Clay glanced over at Eben. It was very unusual for a uNITA officer to question their South African allies. The Colonel was treading a dangerous path with the old man. Just as odd was uNITA clinging to a fixed position. They were a guerrilla force, fighting a much larger and more heavily armed opponent. They depended on movement and camouflage to survive.
Eben frowned, clearly thinking the same thing: whatever was in that bunker, it must be pretty important.
‘Our orders are to assist,’ said Crowbar. Clay could hear the growing impatience in his voice. ‘That means we help each other.’
The Colonel glanced back at his men. ‘I am the ranking officer here, Liutenant.’
Crowbar’s face spread in a wide grin. ‘Not in my army, you ain’t.’
Then, without taking his eyes from Mbdele, he said: ‘Straker, tell the men to get ready to move out.’
Clay snapped off a salute.
‘What are you doing?’ blurted the Colonel. ‘You … You have orders.’
‘Help us, Colonel, and we’ll help you,’ said Crowbar, calm, even.
‘We’re short-handed here. Outnumbered. Get your men out onto our flank or we ontrek. Your choice, meu amigo.’
The Colonel tightened his hand on his pistol grip. ‘This is unacceptable,’ he shouted. ‘Inaceitável.’ He rattled off a tirade in Portuguese.
Crowbar stayed as he was, feet planted, knife still concealed at his side. ‘Try me, asshole.’
The uNITA Colonel puffed out his cheeks, glaring at Crowbar, trying to stare him down.
Crowbar jerked his head towards Clay and Eben. ‘Move out in ten. Get going.’
Clay and Eben hesitated.
‘Now,’ said Crowbar.
Clay and Eben turned and started back to the lines at the double.
They’d gone about ten meters when they heard the Colonel shout: ‘Wait.’ Clay and Eben kept going.
Then Crowbar’s command. ‘Halt.’ They stopped, faced the two officers.
‘I will send half my men to the left flank,’ said the Colonel.
Crowbar muttered something under his breath. ‘Tell them to report to Liutenant DeVries.’ He pointed towards the bush beyond the bunker. ‘Over there.’
For a moment the Colonel looked as if he was going to speak, but then he swallowed it down.
It happened so fast Clay almost missed it. Mbdele was down on the ground, his gun hand in an armlock, the point of Crowbar’s knife at his throat, his 1911 in the dirt under Crowbar’s boot heel. Mbdele wailed in pain as Crowbar wrenched his arm in a direction it was not designed to go.
‘You ever think of pulling a weapon on me again, meu amigo,’ said Crowbar, loud enough so that Clay and Eben could hear, ‘and it will be the last thing that goes through that fucked-up up brain of yours.’
And then it was over and Crowbar was walking away, leaving Mbdele sitting in the dirt rubbing his arm.
‘Fokken uNITA bliksem,’ muttered Crowbar, falling in beside Clay and Eben. ‘I trust those fokkers about as much as I trust the whores in the Transkei.’
Eben grinned at Clay. ‘Quite the get-up. Those twin forty-fives.’
Crowbar glanced at Eben, but said nothing.
‘Did you see his eyes?’ said Eben. ‘He was wired up tight.’
‘Fokken vrot,’ said Crowbar, slinging his r4. ‘Fokken pack of drugged-up jackals.’
‘What’s so important about this place, my Liutenant?’ said Clay.
Crowbar stopped and squared up to Clay. ‘What’s it to you, troop?’
Clay stood to attention. ‘I just meant, those bunkers…’
‘They’re important because I say they’re important, Straker.’ ‘They don’t seem like much.’
Crowbar leaned in until his mouth was only a few inches from Clay’s face. ‘The only thing you need to know is right there in your hands. understood?’
‘Ja, my Liutenant,’ said Clay, rigid.
‘And that goes for you too, Barstow. Couple of fokken smart-arse soutpiele.’ Salt-dicks. English South Africans. ‘Now get out there and find Kruger. Take that black bastard from 32-Bat with you.’
‘Brigade,’ said Clay. ‘His name is Brigade, sir.’
‘I don’t give a kak what his name is,’ said Crowbar. ‘He’s our scout, he knows the country. Take him with you.’
Clay nodded.
‘And do it quick, Straker. Cherry like Kruger, you don’t find him by nightfall, he’s as good as dead.’
Clay and Eben started moving away.
‘And Straker,’ Crowbar called after them.
Clay turned, stood at attention.
‘I catch you again with your weapon in that state, and the commies’ll be the last thing you have to worry about. I’ll shoot you myself.’

South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission Transcripts.  Central Methodist Mission, Johannesburg,  13th September 1996
Commissioner Ksole: And you are here, why, Mister Straker?
Witness: To tell the truth, sir.
Commissioner Ksole: The truth. Why now, Mister Straker? It was a long time ago.
Witness: Because, sir, it’s killing me.
Commissioner Ksole: Do you wish to apply for amnesty, Mister Straker?
Witness: If that’s possible, yes, sir. I do.
Commissioner Ksole: Can you please tell the commission, are you the same Claymore Straker who is wanted for murder and acts of terrorism in Yemen?
Witness: Those charges have been dropped, sir.
Commissioner Ksole: And, Mister Straker, in Cyprus, also?
Witness: I served time in prison in Cyprus, yes, sir.
Commissioner Ksole: And you provide this testimony of your own free will?
Witness: Yes, sir.
Commissioner Ksole: And you understand, Mister Straker, that any information provided here can, and if necessary will, be used against you in a court of law if the circumstances warrant? That this commission has the power to recommend legal action against a witness if it sees fit?
Witness’s answer is unintelligible.
Commissioner Barbour: Speak up, Mister Straker, please. Do you understand the question? Witness: Yes sir, I do. Can and will be used against me.
Commissioner Barbour: And this incident – this series of incidents – occurred on the, ah, the border, during the war in Angola. Is that correct?
Witness: Yes, sir. While I was serving with the 1st Parachute Battalion, SADF. It was my third tour, so it would have been 1981.
Commissioner Barbour: And the UNITA Colonel, Mbdele. Did you know him by any other name?

Witness: No, sir. Not then.
Commissioner Barbour: And later?
Witness: Yes, sir. The people called him O Coletor.
Commissioner Barbour: Sorry?
Witness: It’s Portuguese, sir: ‘the Collector’.
Commissioner Barbour: Thank you. Did you ever find out what was in the, ah, the bunker? Witness: Yes, sir, we did.
Commissioner Barbour: What did you find, son?
Witness does not answer.
Commissioner Barbour: Son?
Witness: The truth, sir. We found the truth.
Commissioner Rotzenburg: It says here, in your service records, Mister Straker, that at the time of your dishonourable discharge from the army you were suffering from mental illness, including extreme instability, episodes of random violent behaviour, complex and consistent delusions, and persistent hallucinations. Do you know what the truth is, Mister Straker?
Witness does not respond.
Commissioner Rotzenburg: Answer the question, please.
Witness. Yes.
Commissioner Rotzenburg: Yes, what?
Witness: Yes, sir.
Commissioner Barbour: That’s not what he meant, son.
Witness: Yes, I … I’ve learned to…
Commissioner Rotzenburg: Learned to what, Mister Straker?
Witness: I’ve learned to distinguish.


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Hello and welcome along to another post to Celebrate Indie Publishing, today I am delighted to share a book from the wonderful Orenda Books, today’s fantastic book featured is “Faithless” by Kjell Ola Dahl and I’m delighted to say that this post is also part of the blog tour for the book.


Book Feature:

Published: 15 April 2017

Description:

Faithless cover(1)

When the body of a woman turns up in a dumpster, scalded and wrapped in plastic, Inspector Frank Frølich is shocked to discover that he knows her—and their recent meetings may hold the clue to her murder. As he begins to look deeper into the tragic events surrounding her death, Frølich’s colleague Gunnarstranda finds another body, and things take a more sinister turn. With a cold case involving the murder of a young girl in northern Norway casting a shadow, and an unsettling number of coincidences clouding the plot, Frølich is forced to look into his own past to find the answers—and the killer—before he strikes again. Dark, brooding and utterly chilling, atmospheric page-turner marks the return of an internationally renowned and award-winning series, from one of the fathers of Nordic Noir.

 

My Thoughts & Review:

Kjell Ola Dahl was not a name that I was familiar with before I heard about this book, and for those out there that are shaking their heads in shock, horror or disbelief, please accept my apologies.  Kjell Ola is lovingly described as the “one of the fathers of Nordic Noir” by  his publisher Orenda Books, and after devouring this book I can see why.

“Faithless” is actually the seventh book in the series following the Oslo detectives Frølich and Gunnarstranda, but happily this book can be read as a stand alone.  I did initially worry that I might struggle to connect with the characters because I came to the series so late but they are written so well that you don’t feel that you’ve missed anything.  The shared history and friendship of the detectives runs in tandem with the main thread of the plot and does not detract from the case at hand, the focus is on the crime and investigation. 

There is something special about Nordic Noir, there’s a realistic simplicity to it, the precise nature of which makes it a joy to read.  This realism shows through in the characterisation, Frølich and Gunnarstranda are time served detectives, they rely on gut instinct and experience rather than modern technology.  The simplicity of doing things the “old fashioned” way gives them an authenticity and fits in so well with the creations I conjured in my head whilst reading.
In keeping with the hallmarks of the genre, there is an unfathomable darkness looming on the horizon.  The tension slowly mounts whilst Dahl masterfully leads his readers on a journey of misdirection and plays with their minds, but all the while the darkness swells until Dahl cunningly stuns his audience and leaves them dumbfounded.  

The plot is clever and the numerous strands of the plot weave so eloquently together to form a conclusion that readers will thoroughly enjoy.

As with any translated book from this publisher, the translation work is superb.  Don Bartlett deserves a huge thank you for taking this wonderful novel and making it read naturally in English.  I will admit that I am somewhat hesitant with some translated books, there is always a worry that subtleties will be lost in conversion into another language, that social or cultural aspects may not comfortably translate but here this is not the case, and I would like to offer my thanks to Don Bartlett for his time and hard work in ensuring that his work is to the highest standard.

You can buy a copy of “Faithless” via:

Amazon
The Book Depository
Wordery
Orenda Books eBookstore


 

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