Category Archives: McKinty Adrian

Police at the Station and They Don’t Look Friendly: Adrian McKinty

“I’ve stirred up something strange, something deep.”

Police at the Station and They Don’t Look Friendly, the sixth entry in the Sean Duffy series from author Adrian McKinty bears an unwieldy title,  but don’t let that stand in the way of picking up this well-crafted crime novel. Set in 1988, during The Troubles, this latest book from the consistently reliable McKinty, is an explosive police procedural set against the violence of the times.

Detective Inspector Sean Duffy, now in middle-age, a father with a live-in girlfriend wonders just how long his career will last. On one hand he’s a Catholic officer in the almost entirely protestant Carrickfergus RUC–that means as a catholic officer, there’s a IRA bounty on his head, and due to his past decisions, he knows he’ll never be promoted. In this novel, Duffy’s old habits, combined with the endless stress of the job find him out-of-shape and struggling with asthma. Can he give up the smokes, the booze and the other recreational habits he’s acquired in order to cope with his efforts to stay alive, solve cases and maintain some degree of integrity?

police at the station

The novel’s powerful opening finds Duffy marched off by masked men (and one woman) to a remote area to dig his own grave, and then the novel backtracks to the incidents that led Sean to this point. Backtracking from a moment of great tension is a risky venture for some novelists (my next review will cover that topic) but in McKinty’s capable hands, the action, with just a touch of humour, never stops, and as a result, the intense page-turning backstory maintains momentum.

Duffy is called to investigate a murder–the weapon of choice in this case is a crossbow, and the victim was a lowly drug dealer. There’s pressure from above to close the case, and Duffy is told in no uncertain words to ‘move on.’ When Duffy keeps digging, bad things begin to happen, and Duffy along with two trusted members of the force: Crabbie and Lawson in effect, lead a secret investigation that tunnels back to the past.

Series novels always include details about the characters’ personal lives. In this novel, Duffy, now a father, has deeper concerns than he’s had in the past. Plus Duffy’s live-in Protestant girlfriend isn’t happy living in a Catholic neighborhood and she isn’t sure she wants to raise a child in Northern Ireland. Duffy juggles pressures from his superiors with domestic strife and very real threats to his life. Plus thanks to health issues, he may be tagged as unfit for duty.

Police at the Station and They Don’t Look Friendly is possibly the best entry in the series so far. Once again, McKinty places us squarely in the murky times by dropping in mention of real events: the Gibraltar terrorism, and the murder of two British army corporals. Curious, I looked up the RUC on Wikipedia and the article states that “at its peak” the force had 8500 officers and that “during the Troubles 319 RUC officers were killed and 9,000 injured in paramilitary assassinations or attacks.”

It would be fairly predictable to place a character in these times and show how things are never black and white, but McKinty does something entirely different. The Sean Duffy novels at all about identity and primary loyalties. In Duffy’s case, he’s a Catholic from working class roots, but he is not an ideologue; he’s first and foremost a policeman who is going to get the job done. Now if he rubs up against Catholics, Protestants or the wealthy along the way to solving his case, these labels are all white noise to Duffy. Being primarily a policeman has carried Duffy so far but now he’s a father and these two labels: father and policeman have their own magnetic pulls.

As I said, this is the sixth in the series, and while some brief references to the past are dropped in the plot, you can jump in with Police at the Station and They Don’t Look Friendly--although it’s better to start at the beginning in order to follow Duffy’s career trajectory. The end of the novel finds Duffy at an interesting place in his career, and now I’m really looking forward to seeing how this plays out.

Reading Ireland Month

This is my entry for Reading Ireland Month held by Cathy 746 and Niall at The Fluff is Raging

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Rain Dogs: Adrian McKinty

Cathy at 746 books hosted Reading Ireland Month during March 2016, so it seemed like the perfect time to pick up Rain Dogs, the 5th book in the Sean Duffy series from author Adrian McKinty. As a police procedural with just a few references to other cases in the past, it’s possible to read this as a stand-alone.

rain dogs

Rain Dogs finds Detective Inspector Sean Duffy still working in Northern Ireland, in the Carrickfergus CID. It’s the late 80s, and we’re in the so-called ‘Troubles,’ —a misnomer if ever I heard one. Duffy is on the point of a break-up with his live-in girlfriend, Beth, who basically tells Sean that he needs to find someone his own age (ouch!).  Duffy is called out on a very petty incident to locate the missing wallet of a visiting Finn VIP at the toney Coast Road Hotel. The theft turns out to be a wild goose chase, and yet it’s also the incident that opens the door to murder, conspiracy, intervention from higher-ups and even the deepest betrayal from an unexpected direction.

Duffy is subsequently called to Carrickfergus Castle to investigate what appears to be a suicide. An attractive British journalist, Lily Bigelow, who caught Duffy’s eye at the hotel the day before, is found dead on the castle grounds. She appears to have jumped to her death, with depression over a broken relationship as the root cause, but there are two elements to the case which trouble Duffy: her notebook has vanished, and her shoes were placed on the wrong feet. Could this be a homicide? And yet if this is a case of murder, who is the killer? The castle grounds were locked down for the night, and while it’s theorized that Lily hid somewhere on the grounds in order to commit suicide (and CCTV shows her entering but not exiting the castle,) several searches and even tracking dogs do not reveal the overnight presence of a possible killer other than the highly respectable, responsible caretaker who swears that he didn’t see the girl–let alone murder her.

The case haunts Duffy and recalls the Lizzie Fitzpatrick case (Book 3: In the Morning I’ll be Gone)–a case in which a young girl was murdered inside a locked pub. Rain Dogs explores how the random, explosive violence of everyday life during The Troubles is a dance with death and just how easy it is to slip a murder in under sectarian violence. This is also the first time I’ve heard of a mercury tilt bomb.

McKinty brings these troubled times alive with a sense of disturbing reality. Duffy is Catholic which puts him outside of his Protestant CID department, his girlfriend Beth is a Protestant, and he lives in a Protestant neighbourhood. Although he’s surrounded by sectarian violence, Duffy rises above it–labels don’t exist in Duffy’s mind–even though he must survive in a chaotic, violent society in which labels are enough to get you killed. Duffy is intelligent enough to realize that while labels may offer a degree of identity, they certainly don’t guarantee much more beyond that. It’s clear that while Duffy is an excellent detective, he’ll never rise above a certain rank–he’s too much of an independent thinker and while his investigations are intense, he doesn’t have any respect for lines of class, power or money.

Duffy is an interesting character–definitely someone we want to hang out with, and while McKinty keeps Duffy well within the bounds of his well-established fictional creation, Duffy remains surprisingly and pleasantly unpredictable. Something occurs during a trip to England which made me even fonder of this character. As tough as Duffy’s environment is, he’s still humane.

There’s one great scene where Killian, a gypsy is arrested for car theft. He coolly brags that juvenile facilities make escape easy:

“We could charge you with conspiracy. I suggest to Special Branch that you’re part of a car-theft ring that aids paramilitaries, I get you sent to an adult prison. Special Branch will keep social services out of it.”

“Why would you do that?”

“To teach you a lesson and stop you stealing cars,” I said, switching back to English.

“That seems a bit of a disproportionate response,” Killian said.

“Maybe I’m the disproportionate response type.”

“You don’t seem the disproportionate response type,” Killian said, blowing a smoke ring up to the ceiling.

“Why’s that?”

“You speak Irish and you’re Catholic, I’d say that you’ve had your fair degree of shite from the RUC and are probably on the side of the underdog, which, in this analogy, would be me.”

I bit down a grin and thought about it. Not a completely unlikeable kid.

By the time the novel ends, it’s clear that Duffy has personal and professional problems in his future. This really is a great crime series and is certainly worth investing in.

Over the past few years, my dislike of finding real people making appearances in fiction has grown. I can’t mention the name of the infamous person who appears here without giving away a major part of the crime factor, so I’ll just say that this is a pet peeve of mine, but at the same time, I understand that McKinty was showing just how absolutely insane a particular situation was. Having powerful friends literally gave this person carte blanche. How disgraceful.

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Best of 2015

December again, and it’s time to compile my best of 2015 reading list.

Best Classic Russian:

Notes From a Dead House: Dostoevsky

Want to know what life was like in a Siberian prison camp? … read this. Human nature at its best and its worst. Sentencing to a Siberian prison camp must have come as a terrible blow to Dostoevsky, but this book–a gift to the world–is the result.

Best Non Fiction:

This House of Grief: Helen Garner. This emotionally wrenching non-fiction book gives the reader an insider look at the Farquharson case in which a divorced man was accused of murdering his three sons. While this is the story of the trial, Helen Garner gives us so much more than this–an eyewitness account but also the torturous cost of the trial on those involved. Again–the best and worst of human nature. I want to read Joe Cinque’s Consolation, but after reading This House of Grief, I think it’s best to put some distance between the two books.

Best New American Crime Fiction:

Canary: Duane Swierczynski

I enjoyed Swierczynski’s fantastic Charlie Hardie trilogy, so I was eager to see what he’d achieved with Canary the story of how a college student gets in over her head when she’s roped in by the police as a ‘confidential informer.’ This is a topical subject and with his usual wizardry Swierczynski creates a formidable, unforgettable heroine in a tale which has many surprises.

Best Classic American Crime Fiction:

The Big Heat: by William McGivern

This moody, hard-hitting tale of corruption involves a lone cop who goes rogue while following a violent path for revenge. Read the book. See the film. Gloria Grahame…. enough said.

The big heat

Best New American Fiction:

Eileen : Ottessa Moshfegh

Eileen was one of the most interesting fiction books I read this year. Not sure what I expected with this one, but someone did a great job with the cover design which drew me to the book in the first place. This is the story of a strange, disconnected young woman who works at a local prison as an office worker. With a horrible home life and no social life whatsoever, something has to give for Eileen, and just what sets her free is the substance of this marvelous, dark tale.

eileen

Best Australian Fiction:

Isobel on the Way to the Corner Shop: Amy Witting. A sequel to I for Isobel, Isobel on the Way to the Corner Shop is set in a TB sanitorium, and Isobel, ill, stuck in bed, is forced to interact with people she likes as well as those she dislikes. This is a heroine we cheer for as she finds a place for herself in an institution, and receives more kindness from strangers than she ever received from her family. People who’ve never been given love, aren’t sure how to receive it, and Witting knows just how to create this on paper. Read both novels.

Best New British Fiction:

A Pleasure and a Calling: Phil Hogan. Regular readers of this blog know that I have a fondness for unreliable narrators. Phil Hogan’s novel is told by a middle-aged, successful estate agent– trustworthy, respectable, reliable…  but is he?… cross this man and your life will suddenly take a turn for the worse. Wickedly funny and dark, this book is nothing less than creepily delightful.

a pleasure and a callling

Best Reprinted British Fiction:

A View of the Harbour: Elizabeth Taylor

I read two Elizabeth Taylor novels this year, both from NYRBs–A Game of Hide and Seek and A View of the Harbour. A View of the Harbour, IMO, was the better novel. Perhaps the seaside setting helped, but overall, I found the characters in A View of the Harbour much more interesting.

Best new Crime Series: Glasgow Underworld Trilogy by Malcolm Mackay

The Necessary Death of Lewis Winter

How a Gunman Says Goodbye

The Sudden Arrival of Violence

A punchy trilogy… but wait… Now there’s Every Night I dream of Hell which includes some of the same characters. Will we see this series extended?

Best Irish Crime Fiction:

Gun Street Girl: Adrian McKinty. Sean Duffy struggles with an open-and-shut case which reeks of a staged crime.

Best Scottish Fiction:

For the Love of Willie: Agnes Owens

I’m a long-term fan of the criminally under-appreciated Scottish author Agnes Owens; she hasn’t written a great deal but if you pick a book by Owen, you can’t go wrong.   For the Love of Willie is narrated by a woman who lives in a mental hospital, and regular readers of this blog know that I have a fondness for this type of setting. Draw your own conclusions.

for the love of willie

Bext French Crime Fiction:

Vertigo: Pierre Boileau & Thomas Narejac. This two writers, working as a collaborative team, wrote crime with the idea that the ‘nightmare would never end’ for the protagonist. Most of us have seen the Hitchcok film made from the book, but there are many differences, so crime fans shouldn’t miss this. This is one of the titles in the very impressive, new Pushkin Press Vertigo line.

Funniest Book:

Crane Mansions: Gert Loveday

I don’t normally go for books featuring children, but I’ll read anything Gert Loveday writes. This mischievous tale involves a child who ends up at Crane Mansions, Regulatory School for the Indigent. If you think this sounds like a horrible place, you’d be right, but this very funny tale subverts all reader expectations.

crane mansions

Best reread:

Birds of the Air: Alice Thomas Ellis. I never tire of this book. A wonderful story of grief, secrets and family relationships.

A novel I meant to read for a long time:

Pale Blue Ink in a Lady’s Hand: Franz Werfel. The story of a successful bureaucrat who is forced to revisit the sins of his past.

Pale Blue Ink

Best Short Story Collection:

Marseille Noir . Crime stories which give the flavor of this city. I moved from watching the French-Belgian film The Connection to reading about crime in Marseille. Review to follow.

marseille noir

 

 

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Filed under Dostoevsky, Fiction, Garner Helen, Hogan Phil, Loveday Gert, Mackay Malcolm, McGivern William P, McKinty Adrian, Moshfegh Eileen, Owens Agnes, Swierczynski Duane, Taylor, Elizabeth, Werfel Franz, Witting Amy

Gun Street Girl by Adrian McKinty

“How can you investigate a murder in a time of incipient civil war?”

Irish author Adrian McKinty, now living in Australia, wrote Dead I May Well Be, which is one of the best modern crime novels I’ve ever read. This is the story of Michael Forsythe who, finding himself running out of options in his native Ireland, relocates to New York where he becomes an enforcer for crime boss Darkey White. If you haven’t read Dead I May Well Be, the first in the Michael Forsythe trilogy, then do yourself a favour and grab a copy.

McKinty’s Gun Street Girl is the fourth in his Sean Duffy series, and while I own all of the books, I am hoping aboard for this one. With just a couple of brief references to an incident or two in his past, this Sean Duffy novel can easily be read as a stand-alone, so if you read it and like me, enjoy it, it’ll be easy to go back and pick up Sean’s earlier history.

Gun Street girlThe story focuses on what appears to be an ‘open-and-shut’ case (Duffy hates that term) of a double murder-suicide involving a very wealthy middle-aged couple and their son, Michael, who’s just been kicked out of Oxford following a scandal. The murders take place in Whitehead, just “over the line in Carrick’s RUC turf,” and Inspector Duffy, the head of the CID unit, has to decide whether or not to fight for the case or to hand this high-profile murder to Larne RUC.  Duffy makes his decision under a great deal of stress, and he opts to fight for the case–a decision which says a great deal about his tenacious character. One of the interesting implications of this turf war is that if Duffy hadn’t fought for the case, the outcome would have been far different:

“Do you think these victims were shot by a nine-millimeter?”

“Again forensics will tell us for sure, but if you ask me the wounds are consistent with a pistol of that caliber.”

“Yeah. Almost certainly.”

“But you’re not happy?” he said, reading my expression accurately.

I shook my head. “I don’t know, Crabbie, I can see where you’re pointing me, but this thing has a professional killing vibe about it, don’t you think?”

While the clues to the crime are dropped like gingerbread crumbs to lead Duffy to the solution,  Duffy, instead focuses on the things that don’t fit the scenario, and soon he’s up to his neck in rogue Americans who may or may not be spooks, the closed ranks of the upper-class British, and M-I5.

The story is set against the Anglo-Irish Agreement; it’s 1985, and the violent riots which break out wreak havoc with Duffy’s investigation.  Gun Street Girl places its characters squarely in the tumultuous 80s, and the author’s note at the end of the book admits to “several real historical events of the time period.” These real events–along with frequent music references help build a solid sense of atmosphere.

Duffy is the sole catholic working in his department and living in the protestant neighbourhood of Carrickfergus. McKinty’s realistic characters are complex, and that’s one of the fascinating aspects of this excellent, compelling crime novel. Duffy navigates a fragmented, chaotic, violent society in which people are defined by labels–labels which on a peer level are theoretically safety zones but paradoxically also attract unpredictable, random violence. These are labels that show clear demarcations of beliefs and loyalties: cop, crook, Catholic, Protestant, IRA, UDF and yet as the plot continues all the labels assigned or selected by various characters, blur and pixelate.

“Would it surprise you to learn that one in four IRA volunteers now works for us in some capacity?” Kate said, deadpan.

“One in four! You’re joking!”

“One in four. Actually in terms of percentages it’s around twenty-seven percent.”

“A quarter of the IRA are actually British agents? Bollocks!” I said utterly shocked.

“It’s true,” Kendrick said. “One in four IRA volunteers work for us in some capacity as fully paid informers, as petty touts or occasionally as active agents.”

I was struggling to take this in. “But, but … but if that’s true why haven’t you shut them down completely?”

“The cell structure,” Kendrick explained.

“Some commands have entirely resisted infiltration. The South Armagh Brigade, for example. The sleeper cells in England and Germany. And then there’s also the fact that we’re playing the long game with many of these agents and informers. Letting them rise as far as they can …”

“So you let them commit the odd murder here and there so they can prove their bona fides and move up the ranks?” I said with some disgust.

Duffy is a prime example of a McKinty character who could be defined by labels–he’s a Catholic cop (hated by both sides of the population), but in Duffy, McKinty creates a strong main character, someone we definitely want to hang out with–a man who, once you scrape the surface, defies labels, doesn’t kiss ass and breaks the rules. There’s some deep inner core of highly individualistic integrity in Duffy, so while he does the odd line of coke, he refuses to be intimidated by the power structure of the British government. Duffy is a man you could count on to do ‘the right thing’ but it’s the right thing as defined and performed by Duffy.

I’m not going to say much about the plot, but I’ll add that Duffy lives in a Protestant neighbourhood–a decision that makes a definite statement.  Every time Duffy gets into his car, he looks for bombs, and the author adds this detail repeatedly which, rather unpredictably, adds humour even as it underscores the fact that Duffy can never relax as to be caught off his guard could prove deadly. Duffy’s outlook–although jaded and cynical–is still somehow refreshing & humorous which fits the insanity and chaos of his environment.

In Gun Street Girl Duffy breaks in two new detective constables. In the beginning of the novel, Duffy prefers the female as “the slightly more interesting of the two.” The other detective constable is Alexander Lawson, who’s liked by the other coppers, but Duffy “feel[s] a little irritated by his slickness.” As the plot moves on, Duffy finds himself working closely with Lawson and in time his impression of the newbie improves, and again this says a lot about Duffy’s character as he doesn’t pollute his relationship with Lawson with snobbery. There’s a great moment in the novel when Duffy and Lawson travel over to England and get a taste of what it’s like to live in a country that’s not a war zone but also what it’s like to be treated like a couple of sightseeing, boozing idiots by the British police. Prejudices and assumptions bombard the two Irish cops and Duffy, who really can be a chameleon, sets his British hosts straight about his serious approach to the case. Here’s Duffy and the woman who runs a B&B in Oxford:

“Inspector Sean Duffy,” I wrote in the book. She didn’t notice the “Inspector,” but the name and the accent gave her a fond memory: ‘”Of course, in my late husband’s time we had a strict rule about Irishmen. He was very particular. Do you remember that, Jeffrey?”

“No Irish, no West Indians,” Jeffery said.

“Oh yes, he was very particular was my Kenneth. You knew where he stood.”

Again back to those labels.

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Falling Glass by Adrian McKinty

Time to shamelessly promote another author, and this time it’s Adrian McKinty–an Irishman who lives in Australia, and if, like me, you are at all interested in Irish crime fiction, then Adrian McKinty is a name to note. Simple as that. McKinty’s Dead Trilogy  (also known as the Michael Forsythe Trilogy) is as good as crime fiction gets: dark, hard-boiled, and unrelentingly mean, the trilogy (Dead I May Well Be, The Dead Yard, The Bloomsday Dead) a fantastic exploration of Irish criminal culture follows the explosive criminal career of Michael Forsythe who leaves Ireland and goes to America where he works as an enforcer for Darkey White. If you haven’t read this trilogy, all I can say is ‘what are you waiting for?’ And this brings me to McKinty’s latest book Falling Glassanother hard-boiled crime novel which connects to the Dead Trilogy.

Falling Glass begins with Killian finalising another job as a collector in Boston. It’s St Patrick’s Day, and Killian finds himself in the middle of the celebrations which are rife with faulty Irish folklore and annoying people who’ve never been to Ireland correcting Killian about various aspects of Irish life and culture. This is a great intro to the story because fabrications (lies and BS) play a large role in the story that plays out. Killian is a great story spinner too, and we see this talent when he meets and tries to collect from Marcetti, the man with the overdue debt of “five large.” Killian likes to know understand his quarry–in this case, the respectable suburban husband and father whose secret life has led to a “shark’s enforcer” arriving at his perfect home with its triple garage looking to collect 500,000 the hard way if that’s what it takes.

He could imagine the traj; street or half-street kid, pretty smart, scholarships, college, banking, marries into money, moves to the Boston burbs and gradually migrates north. Perfect until, like some atavistic demon, the grifter comes out: a visit to the local casino, maybe he wins, in any case the hooks are in, he starts playing, starts losing, starts borrowing. In a year, he’s under the ocean, deep down, Robert fucking Ballard territory, the Mariana fucking trench.

After impressing Michael Forsythe with the results of the Boston job, Killian is hired to track down Rachel, the junkie ex-wife of multi-millionaire entrepreneur Richard Coulter. Rachel has gone on the lam with her two small children, and Coulter, who’s remarried to wife number 3 and about to become a father yet again, wants his children back. The word is that Coulter wants to enjoy “one big fucking happy family” according to Killian’s ‘agent’, Sean. Coulter claims that he’s worried about what’ll happen to his children with Rachel back on H, and given Rachel’s history, this seems a very reasonable worry. To sweeten the pot, Coulter offers Killian 500,000 pounds if he’s succeeds in finding his ex- who “is off the deep end.”

With a half-million score at the end of the rainbow, how can Killian refuse? In his own words he’s “semi semi” which translates to mean that he’s trying to go legit. The only problem is that Killian tried to go legit at the wrong time. After quitting “The Life,” and deciding to attend the University of Ulster, he jumped into the property boom. Now he’s “three hundred thousand quid negative equity” on an apartment building that no one wants to buy at the price he needs. So Killian agrees to take the job which appears to be the answer to all his problems–although he has reservations and sniffs that the job “reeks.”  Killian discovers, the hard way, that the whole scenario about Rachel left out some important details….

Killian finds himself in Hong Kong where he meets Coulter and his new-wife Helena and gets the details for the job.  Coulter claims that he has “proof” that Rachel is using again, and that would certainly explain why she’s dropped out of sight.

We found out she’d disappeared. Stopped using cash machines, only used payphones. Her solicitor doesn’t even know where she is. We thought she’d joined a fucking cult or something.

At first things go smoothly, but then Killian begins to peel away the layers of deceit and discovers the real reasons for Rachel’s flight, and it’s at this point that the situation turns ugly.

One of the reasons I’m a fan of Adrian McKinty’s crime novels is that he creates interesting complex characters. Killian may seem like an affable soul, a good story-teller, a decent man, but as the hunt for Rachel turns into something else, he adapts to circumstances, and we see exactly why he’s easy to underestimate. There’s a meanness there, just below the surface, that Killian is perfectly capable of unleashing when circumstances warrant violence, and since I’m on the subject of violence there is one scene here that is definitely not for the squeamish. But, make no mistake, Killian is the good guy here in a world of corruption and senseless violence. Killian has moral standards he adheres to, and there are some things he will not do for money.

The book also explores Pavee life. Killian is a Pavee, and while that doesn’t mean much to me beyond the vaguest, shapeless idea of caravan life, it means a great deal, apparently, to other Irishmen. Killian, who is from a tribe of Irish Travellers and speaks Shelta, reconnects with his people during the course of the novel, so the story opened up a window into an unknown culture. I knew, of course, about the enmity between the catholics and the protestants, but just how the Pavees fit into this was new to me. This was an interesting twist, and Killian’s background goes a long way to explaining why he’s viewed as a disposable outsider who is not trusted by the people who employ him.

Falling Glass is another intense crime read from McKinty. It’s fast paced and gripping, but loses momentum towards the end, and there was one element to the plot (can’t give it away) that felt a bit tired to this reader. The Dead Trilogy is still IMO, McKinty’s best work, but I have his latest Cold, Cold Ground (Book One: The Troubles Trilogy) just published here in N. America to look forward to.

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