Category Archives: Angela Marsons

When You’re Twins, the Magic Just Never Ends*

One of Ronald Knox’s rules for detective fiction holds that,
 

‘Twin brothers, and doubles generally, must not appear unless we have been duly prepared for them.’
 
The idea here was that it’s not fair to the reader to raise that question of identification. And, of course, crime fiction fans do want the author to ‘play fair.’

And yet, there are lots of twins in crime fiction. Some of them are identical, and some are fraternal. All of them, though, seem to have a unique sort of relationship – one that we don’t always see among other siblings. And it’s interesting to see how twins are treated in crime fiction.

For instance, in Josephine Tey’s Brat Farrar, we are introduced to the various members of the Ashby family, a once-‘better’ family that’s fallen upon very hard times. But that’s about to change for Simon Ashby. When he turns twenty-one, he’s set to inherit a vast fortune. Out-of-work actor Alec Loding knows this, as he knows the Farrar family very well. He also knows that Simon had a twin brother, Patrick, who was believed to have committed suicide years earlier. One day, Loding meets an ex-pat American, Brat Farrar, who looks a lot like the Ashby twins. That gives him the idea that Farrar should impersonate Patrick. Since Patrick was the older twin, if Farrar can pull off the deception, he’s set to inherit a lot of money. All Loding wants is a part of that fortune. Farrar agrees and plans are laid. But it’s not going to be as easy as it seems. As it turns out, Patrick did not commit suicide. Instead, he was murdered. Now, the same person intends to try again, this time more successfully.

Matthew Gant’s short story The Uses of Intelligence introduces readers to eleven-year-old twins Patty and Danny Perkins. They’re both exceptionally intelligent, with genius-level IQs, and a strong bond. One day, they discover that an acquaintance of theirs, banana seller Aristos Depopoulos, has been killed. At first, it looks as though he was killed by one of the workers at a nearby construction site. But the Perkins twins aren’t so sure of that and decide to find out the truth for themselves. When they discover who killed Depopoulos, they engage in a little blackmail, hoping to profit from what they know. What they haven’t counted on is that they’re not the only ones who are geniuses…

In Peter Corris’ The Dying Trade, Sydney PI Cliff Hardy gets a call from wealthy Bryn Gutteridge, who wants to consult him on a ‘private’ matter. Hardy agrees to at least talk to the man and goes to his home. It seems that Bryn’s twin sister, Susan, is being harassed and threatened. Bryn wants it to stop, so he wants to hire Hardy to find out who’s responsible. On the surface, Susan Gutteridge doesn’t seem to have any enemies. She works with several social causes and hasn’t attracted negative attention. What’s more, she’s not in good health, spending her share of time at a private clinic. There doesn’t seem to be much motive there, either. The twins’ father, Mark Gutteridge, made quite a lot of money, but was, according to his widow, a swindler. So, it’s possible one of his enemies has decided to target Susan. Bit by bit, Hardy learns some of the family history and some family secrets that play their roles in what’s been happening. He also discovers how that all ties in with Mark Gutteridge’s business practices. In the end, he finds out who’s behind the harassment.

Scott Turow’s Identical is the story of twins Cass and Paul Gianis. Paul is leading in the race to become mayor of Kindle County, and his prospects look good. But then, everything changes. Cass is released from prison after serving 25 years for the beating death of his girlfriend, Aphrodite (Dita) Kronon. Her brother Hal believes that Paul was also involved in some way, and wants the case investigated. For his part, Paul doesn’t want this matter raked up, and sues for defamation. But, for his own reasons, Hal is very much opposed to Paul becoming mayor and will do what he needs to do to prevent that. That conflict between the families means that some very dark secrets are going to be raked up.

Of course, not all twins have a lot in common. For example, Teresa Solana’s Barcelona PIs Eduard and Josep ‘Borja’ Martínez are twins, but they’re very different. They don’t look much alike, they have different politics, and they have different temperaments. Borja is more extroverted, more willing to take risks, and better able to ‘sell’ clients on the brothers’ services. Eduard is a little more stable, a planner, and, perhaps, more realistic. They are complementary, but their differences can sometimes lead to friction.

Detective Inspector Kim Stone, whom we first meet in Angela Marsons’ Silent Scream, had a difficult, sometimes quite traumatic childhood. She spent quite a lot of time in the care system, and that’s given her, in a way, a hard edge. She’s not what you’d call dysfunctional, but she does have her issues. One of the things that haunts her is that she had a twin brother, Mikey, who died when they were children. She slowly comes to terms with that tragedy as time goes by, but it’s still hard for her. And, as we learn what happened in their childhoods, we see why.

Priscilla Masters’ Martha Gunn is the coroner for Shrewsbury, which means she gets involved in all cases of unnatural death. As if that doesn’t keep her busy enough, she is the mother of twins Sukey and Sam, who are twelve when the series begins. They have different interests and friends, so Gunn does the best that she can to treat them as unique individuals. In some ways, they are quite different, too. But they also have their own special connection.

There are a lot of other stories in which twins figure (I know, Agatha Christie fans. It’s just hard to mention those examples without spoilers…). It’s a fascinating relationship and can make for character layers and plot points in a crime novel. And that gives an author all sorts of possibilities.

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Philip Bailey and Little Richard’s Twins.

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Filed under Angela Marsons, Josephine Tey, Matthew Gant, Peter Corris, Priscilla Masters, Ronald Knox, Scott Turow, Teresa Solana

My Own Way*

When we think about what it takes to be a sleuth, management skills probably don’t come first to mind. But plenty of sleuths work regularly with others. And those sleuths are frequently in positions where they supervise others. So, management is an important part of their jobs.

Each manager has a slightly different style, and some people respond better to a given style than others do. It’s interesting to see how sleuths’ personalities come out in the way they manage, and how others react to those personalities. It’s also interesting to see how management skills develop over time.

Reginald Hill’s Andy Dalziel has a singular approach to managing. He is a tough, no-nonsense leader who expects his team to do their jobs well. Fans know that he does not suffer fools gladly, and he’s quite plain-spoken when he has a criticism. He’s not much of a one for being too concerned about people’s sensitivities. Working for Andy Dalziel requires a very thick skin. That said, though, there’s another side to his management style. He never asks his team to work harder or take more risks than he does. And he supports his team members, too. More than once in the series, Dalziel protects the people he supervises, and backs them in disputes with the Powers That Be. He’ll rake someone over the proverbial coals himself, but he is just as loyal to his team as he expects his team to be loyal to him.

Fred Vargas’ Commissaire Jean-Baptiste Adamsberg has a very different approach to management. But, then, he has a very unusual team. His team members are all what a lot of us would think of as eccentric, to say the least. One of them has narcolepsy, one is a naturalist, and one is a ‘walking encyclopaedia’ who drinks far more white wine than most people would think is a good idea. Oh, and in several books, there’s Snowball the office cat, who is a far better tracker than the humans at the office. Adamsberg knows that he works with very talented people. Insisting that they behave conventionally would rob him of some expert teammates. So, he looks the other way about the wine drinking, the narcolepsy, and so on. And he has come to trust his team as they trust him. Adamsberg himself is a bit eccentric. He has more of a philosophical approach to solving crime than a conventional one. Sometimes, he spends as much time at a local café thinking things through as he does sitting in his office. But he and his team are successful.

Angela Marsons’ Detective Inspector (DI) Kim Stone has had her challenges in life. She grew up in the care system, and was shuttled among several foster homes, not all of which were healthy places. So, she sometimes has an abrupt manner. She can be thoughtless, too, and sometimes pushes her team without considering that they have home lives and other obligations. But she works at least as heard as she expects any of her colleagues to do. And she’s quite well aware that she has faults. When she does see that she’s been too curt, or that her team desperately needs a break, she admits that and makes amends when she can. Her honesty may be brusque, but her team appreciates that she tells everyone the truth. And it’s interesting to see how she grows in her management role as the series goes on

Mari Hannah’s Detective Inspector (DI) Kate Daniels gets a chance at an important management role in The Murder Wall. The body of Alan Stephens is discovered, and Daniels’ boss, Superintendent Bright, names her Senior Investigating Officer (SIO). That’s a real coup, and Daniels wants, of course, to do well. It’s not going to be an easy case, though. For one thing, the team knows and has worked with the chief suspect, the victim’s ex-wife. For another thing, Daniels herself knew the victim, and hasn’t told anyone. Still, she and her team take on the investigation. As the novel goes on, one of the interesting story threads is the way Daniels begins to grow into her role as SIO. She and her team certainly make their share of mistakes. But they also learn a lot, and they do find the killer. It’s an interesting look at developing a management style.

We also see the development of a management style in Martin Edwards’ Lake District mysteries. As they begin (with The Coffin Trail), Detective Chief Inspector (DCI) Hannah Scarlett has just been named to head the Cold Case Review Team at Cumbria Constabulary. She faces several challenges as she gets started, too. Her new position is actually seen as a demotion, since the team is ‘relegated’ to looking at cases that aren’t really making the news. And she’s got to deal with all of the interactions among team members, as well as the inevitable paperwork, assessment, and other duties that fall to those who manage. It’s a process for Scarlett as she learns to lead the team effectively and earn the respect of those who report to her. She makes mistakes, but her style develops as she gains confidence.

Everyone, real and fictional, has a different management style, And sometimes, different styles can be equally effective, depending on the leader and depending on those who report to that person. There’s only been space to talk about a few examples here, but I know you’ll think of lots more.

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is the title of a song by the Rembrandts.

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Filed under Angela Marsons, Fred Vargas, Mari Hannah, Martin Edwards, Reginald Hill

And He’s Proud of His Scars and the Battles He’s Lost*

Most people go through at least some sadness in their lives – sometimes true sorrow. And some of what happens can leave a person with real psychological scars. It happens in fiction, too, which makes sense, since well-written fiction shows us ourselves.

The challenge, if you’re an author, is depicting a character who has such scars. On the one hand, psychological scars impact the way people interact and think. Not to acknowledge that is unrealistic. On the other hand, many readers don’t want their characters (especially their protagonists) to be so damaged that they languish at the bottom of a bottle or at the end of a needle. That might be all right for a very short time, but most people want their main characters to be functioning, if not always entirely functional. There are some crime-fictional characters who balance dealing with their scars with actually functioning in life, and they can make for interesting reading.

In Agatha Christie’s Appointment With Death, for instance, we are introduced to the members of the Boynton family, who are on a tour of the Middle East. Family matriarch Mrs. Boynton is, as Hercule Poirot puts it, a mental sadist who has her family so cowed that not one member dares to cross her. Her cruelty is psychological, not really physical, and it’s had its impact on her three stepchildren and her daughter. On the second day of their trip to the ancient city of Petra, Mrs. Boynton dies of what turns out to be poison. Poirot is in the area, and Colonel Carbury persuades him to investigate. Each member of the victim’s family had a very good motive for murder, and so did some of the other characters associated with the family. As we learn about the family, we see the scars that Mrs. Boynton’s treatment has left. Those scars have certainly impacted each character, even those who aren’t what you’d call incapacitated.

In Ellery Queen’s The Four of Hearts, Queen investigates the murders of two famous Hollywood stars, Blythe Stuart and John Royle. Part of his investigation involves looking into the victims’ backgrounds and histories to find out if something in their pasts has caught up with them. As a part of that process, he meets well-known gossip columnist Paula Paris. She’s ‘plugged in’ to every bit of talk in Hollywood, and her contacts find out whatever there is to know. Interestingly, Paris gets all of this information without ever leaving her home. She is, in fact, agoraphobic. There’s not really a clear reason given for her condition, but it certainly impacts her. That said, though, she doesn’t sit wringing her hands. Instead, she uses her network, and she writes a popular column. So, she’s got plenty of influence, and no financial worries. In this particular case, Queen helps her overcome the worst of her agoraphobia. And she proves to be quite helpful as he finds out the truth about the murders.

Fans of Michael Connelly’s Harry Bosch know that he’s had several psychologically scarring experiences. He spent a good deal of time in a children’s home and had to deal with the murder of his mother. Then, later in his life, he served in Vietnam. His experiences there were traumatic, too, as they are with nearly everyone who serves in war. All of this has meant that Bosch has some psychological wounds. They impact the way he sees his job, the way he interacts with others, and more. That said, though, they haven’t left him so dysfunctional that he can’t do his job. It’s true he’s had difficulty with personal relationships, and certainly with some of his work colleagues. Still, he hasn’t drowned at the bottom of a bottle, and he has a loving relationship with his daughter, Maddie.

In The Diggers Rest Hotel, Geoffrey McGeachin introduces readers to Charlie Berlin. It’s 1947, and Berlin has recently returned to his native Melbourne from service in World War II. He has what we would now call PTSD, and that’s not surprising, considering that he saw combat and served time as POW. Still, he’s trying to put his life back in order. In this novel, and the other two Berlin novels (Blackwattle Creek and St. Kilda Blues), we see how Berlin copes with his personal scars. On the one hand, he doesn’t ‘get over it.’ And it’s clear that he’s been permanently impacted by what he’s been through in life. On the other, he gets on with life. He marries, has children, and so on. It’s an interesting case of a character who does his best to cope with life, given everything.

Angela Marsons’ Detective Inspector (DI) Kim Stone also has her share of scars. When we first meet her in Silent Scream, we learn that she spent more than her share of time in the care system. That experience has left its mark on her. She’s prickly, sometimes very impatient, and not always good at picking up on others’ subtle cues and nuances. But she’s not hopelessly dysfunctional. She interacts professionally a lot of the time, she’s aware that she’s not easy to be with, and she does try to acknowledge it when she makes a mistake. As the series goes on, she does some growing, too. She never ‘gets over’ some of the things that have happened to her, but she learns to cope with life in a (mostly) productive way.

And then there’s Abir Mukherjee’s Captain Sam Wyndham. When this series begins, it’s 1919, and Wyndham has just arrived in Kolkata/Calcutta to take up his duties with the police. He suffers, as most soldiers do, with the after-effects of his wartime (WW I) service, and he’s grieving the loss of his wife, Sarah. He’s good at his job, and he is a functioning person. But the psychological scars are still there, and they’ve led to him using opium. His dependency doesn’t keep him from doing his job. Nor does it mean he has no relationships with anyone else, etc. But he has several hidden scars.

And that’s the case with a lot of major crime-fictional characters. The challenge is acknowledging the scars without them being so debilitating that the character can’t function. Striking that balance isn’t easy, but the result can be a character who’s realistic.

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Billy Joel’s Prelude/Angry Young Man.

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Filed under Abir Mukherjee, Agatha Christie, Angela Marsons, Ellery Queen, Geoffrey McGeachin, Michael Connelly

You’ve Got Forensic Evidence That Never Lies*

A recent interesting post from Rebecca Bradley has got me thinking about how important it is to handle a police investigation as carefully as possible. Bradley, a retired police officer, has been sharing her experience and wisdom in a fascinating feature called Writing Crime. In that feature, she writes about aspects of a police investigation such as securing a crime scene, collecting evidence, and interviewing witnesses and suspects, among other things. If you write crime fiction, or are thinking about it, that feature is well worth your attention. And even if you don’t, Rebecca’s blog is a treasure trove. And she’s a talented crime writer, so you’ll want to try her work.

Rebecca’s right, too, about how important those details (such as collecting evidence) really are. Carelessness can destroy evidence, or at the very least, corrupt it. Among other things, that means that a case won’t hold up in court. It also means that crimes may not be solved. That’s one reason why every police trainee is thoroughly drilled on the rules about collecting, preserving, and using evidence.

It matters just as much in crime fiction as it does in real life. If a crime novel is to be credible, then the evidence is supposed to be handled in a specific way. This gives the author some flexibility, actually. Authors who want to create a plot based on mishandled evidence can do that. Authors who want to use properly-preserved evidence to make a case can do that, too. In either case, it’s an important and interesting aspect of crime fiction.

For instance, in Agatha Christie’s The Murder on the Links, Hercule Poirot and Captain Hastings visit the small French town of Merlinville-sur-Mer at the request of Paul Renauld, who’s made his home there. He’s written to Poirot, claiming that his life is in danger, and asking Poirot to go to France immediately. By the time Poirot and Hastings arrive, though, it’s too late. Renauld has been murdered. Monsieur Giraud of the Sûreté is assigned to the case, and one of his first priorities is to find clues. Admittedly, he is insufferable, rude and arrogant. But he does have a point about preserving the crime scene. Here’s his comment to M. Bex, who has been supervising the local police.
 

‘‘Is it your police who have been trampling all over the place? I thought they knew better nowadays.’’
 

To Giraud, getting physical evidence and preserving it is the key to solving the crime.

Small bits of evidence prove very important in Lynda La Plante’s Above Suspicion, the first of her Anna Travis novels. In it, Travis has recently joined the Murder Squad at Queen’s Park, London. She’s joining at a critical time, too. The body of seventeen-year-old Melissa Stephens has been discovered, and her murder bears several similarities to six other murders, all of women. But there are some differences. For one thing, the other victims were older sex workers; Melissa was young, and not a sex worker. There are a few other little differences, too. Still, Detective Chief Inspector (DCI) James Langton, who leads this team, believes that the same killer is involved. This is a smart murderer, though, who is neat and careful, and doesn’t leave evidence. Still, no-one is perfect. And, in the end, a small piece of evidence that hasn’t been destroyed ends up implicating the real killer. And it’s interesting to see how Travis (who happens to think of where that evidence might be) is able to get it properly collected.

Angela Marsons’ Silent Scream also features the importance of handling evidence carefully. Detective Inspector (DI) Kim Stone and her team are called in when high school principal Teresa Wyatt is found murdered in her bathtub. Then, there are two other murders. All of the victims were, in some way, connected to Crestwood, a former home for girls. That in itself piques Stone’s interest. But then, Professor Milton, who’s gotten approval for an archaeological excavation on the site, is cruelly threatened, and told to halt his plans. Now, Stone and her team are more interested than ever in what happened at Crestwood. There are several points in the story where evidence comes to light. And Stone has to go through the correct procedures to get approval to look for the evidence, to collect it, and to preserve it properly. She doesn’t always like doing things ‘by the book,’ but she does understand that those rules are there for a reason.

Because the handling of evidence is so important, it’s a serious problem if that evidence is lost or in some way compromised. And that’s what’s suspected in Reginald Hill’s Recalled to Life. Cissy Kohler has recently been released from prison, where she served time for the 1963 murder of Pamela Westrup. There’s talk that she was innocent. Worse, there’s talk that the investigating officer, Wally Tallentire, hid evidence that pointed to her innocence. In fact, a new investigation into the case is launched. This upsets Superintendent Andy Dalziel, who considered Tallentire a mentor. Determined to clear Tallentire’s name, Dalziel looks into the Westrup murder again. And it’s interesting to see how the matter of evidence plays such an important role here.

And then there’s Y.A. Erskine’s The Brotherhood, in which Tasmania Police Sergeant John White is stabbed as he is investigating a home invasion. The novel shows how this murder impacts everyone involved, including White’s colleagues, subordinates, and even the suspected killer. Without spoiling the story, I can say that the handling of certain evidence adds a layer of character development and plot to the story.

Handling evidence appropriately is key to any police investigation. So it’s no wonder that the way evidence is gathered and stored plays such an important role in crime fiction. One post is not enough to do justice to the topic, so tell me – what have I forgotten?

Thanks, Rebecca, for the inspiration!

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Stiff Little Fingers’ Forensic Evidence.

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Angela Marsons, Lynda La Plante, Reginald Hill, Y.A. Erskine

In The Spotlight: Angela Marsons’ Silent Scream

Hello, All,

Welcome to another edition of In The Spotlight. Some crime novels feature two crimes (or sets of crimes): one from the past, and one from the present. In such stories, the sleuth has a dual challenge: solve the past mystery and solve the present mystery. That’s the sort of novel that Angela Marsons’ Silent Scream is, so let’s turn the spotlight on that novel today.

Silent Scream is the first to feature Marsons’ protagonist, Detective Inspector (DS) Kim Stone. After a short prologue, the story begins with the murder of school principal Teresa Wyatt, who’s found drowned in her bathtub. After a bit of a ‘patch war,’ Stone takes the case along with her team: Detective Sergeant (DS) Bryant, DS Kevin Dawson, and Detective Constable (DC) Stacey Wood. Not very long afterwards, Tom Curtis, who’s been working in an elder care home, is murdered. Then, Arthur Cannop is killed in a hit-and-run incident. The one link among the three victims is that all of them worked at one time at a girls’ home called Crestwood, which has since closed.

In the meantime, the team learns about a proposed archaeological dig, headed up by Professor Milton of Worcester College. The paperwork granting permission for the dig has come through, and the professor is eager to find the cache of ancient coins he believes may be in the area. Then, he gets a cruel warning not to proceed with the dig. Frightened, he eventually contacts the police.

Stone is now sure that there is something on the dig site that someone wants very much to keep hidden. With three deaths, and the warning to Milton, she believes it has something to do with Crestwood. And so it proves to be. The excavation yields dark secrets, and soon puts Stone, Bryant, Dawson, and Wood on a search for some answers to some very ugly questions. And there are very few people who are able (or is it willing?) to talk about the past.

As the team continues to put the pieces together, it becomes clear that someone is deliberately targeting people, and that there may be more victims. Stone and her team are going to have to work fast if they’re to prevent more death.

There are elements of the thriller in this novel. Several characters are not who they seem to be, and part of the suspense comes as we learn the truth. The pace is, for the most part, consistent with the thriller, and there are moments of real danger. The suspense is as much psychological as it is anything else, but there is violence.

That said, though, this is also a police procedural. So, readers follow along as Stone and her team go to crime scenes, examine evidence, talk to witnesses, and spend time at the police station. An important element in this novel is the set of interactions among Stone and her team. They’re all different and have different backgrounds. But they function well together. Each of Stone’s team members brings something to the investigation, and all of them respect her. She cares about them, too, and isn’t oblivious to the pressure they’re under as the investigation continues. Readers who are tired of police who can’t work on a team, and who sabotage their colleagues, will be pleased to know that that doesn’t happen here.

The same might be said for Stone’s relationship with her immediate superior, Detective Chief Inspector (DCI) Woodward. On the one hand, she doesn’t always play by the rules, and sometimes gets herself in trouble because of it. On the other, she knows that the rules are there for a reason, and she understands the need to be a team member. She accepts consequences, too, when she steps over the proverbial line. Readers who are tired of ‘maverick’ cops who can’t follow rules and can’t work with others will be pleased to know that Stone isn’t what you’d call a ‘loose cannon.’

Crestwood and the people who were there play important roles in the novel. As Stone and her team investigate, we learn about the lives of the girls who lived at Crestwood, the people whose care they were in, and the way the place operated. It’s an uncompromising look at children in the care system, and what can happen to them. Readers who do not want to read stories where children are at risk, and are sometimes harmed, will want to know that.

The treatment of these vulnerable children is hard for everyone to take, but for Stone it’s especially difficult. She, herself, is a product of the care system. In fact, her experiences being in such places, and being shuttled from foster home to foster home, have had a profound impact on her. She can be brusque and sometimes thoughtless. She isn’t demonstrative, and she acknowledges to herself that she gets along by keeping her past locked away, as she puts it, in a box. That said, though, she isn’t a stereotypical ‘damaged sleuth’ who can’t interact productively, drinks too much, and so on. Her manner isn’t typically warm and friendly, but at the same time, she is functional.

The mystery is solved mostly through police work, and one or two hunches that pay off. Knowing the truth doesn’t bring back the dead, and it doesn’t make the world all right again. But, without giving away spoilers, some things work out well. It is a very sad story, though, in some ways. Certainly, it’s not a light ‘easy’ sort of novel. That said, there is wit in it – the sort of sarcastic bantering and ‘gallows’ jokes that people make when they’re dealing with awful situations.

Silent Scream is the story of a home for girls, and the fallout from what happened there. It shows what happens when dark, ugly secrets from the past haunt the present, and features a determined investigator who won’t give up until she lays those ghosts to rest. But what’s your view? Have you read Silent Scream? If you have, what elements do you see in it?

 
 
 

Coming Up On In The Spotlight
 

Monday, 21 May/Tuesday, 22 May – A Rising Man – Abir Mukherjee

Monday, 29 May/Tuesday, 30 May – Into the Shadows – Shirley Wells

Monday, 4 June/Tuesday, 5 June – Tenant For Death – Cyril Hare

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Filed under Angela Marsons, Silent Scream