Off to Malice

at Malice 2011

Kaitlyn Dunnett/Kathy Lynn Emerson here, about to depart on my annual pilgrimage to Bethesda, Maryland, where hundreds of mystery lovers gather every spring to celebrate “Malice Domestic.” This is Malice 31. The first one I attended was Malice 3, way back in 1991. I’ve missed a few in between, but not many.

Kate, Barb, Kathy/Kaitlyn and Lea, Malice 2014

What keeps me coming back? The people, of course. We all start out with something in common—we read traditional mysteries. Those are the ones with no gratuitous sex or violence and it is usually, but not always, an amateur detective who solves the crime. Think Agatha Christie, which is why the awards given out at Malice Domestic are called the Agathas. The so-called cozy mystery is a sub-genre of the traditional mystery.

Lea Wait signing books 2015

Reconnecting with Malice friends actually begins at the airport in Portland, Maine, where several of the Maine Crime Writers catch a plane to the D.C. area. For the last couple of of years, Lea Wait, Bruce Coffin, and I have taken the same American Airlines flight, which also made the taxi ride from the airport to the hotel more enjoyable. This year Bruce is one of the finalists for the Agatha for best novel.

I guess I should mention that I have one of the Agatha teapots given out to the winners. Mine is for the best mystery nonfiction of 2008 and was given out in 2009. I won it for How to Write Killer Historical Mysteries. In 2015, I was a finalist in the short story category. Bruce and I are in good company. There have been a lot of finalists (and winners) among the past and present bloggers at Maine Crime Writers, including Dorothy Cannell, Jessie Crockett, Kate Flora, Barb Ross, Julia Spencer-Fleming, and Lea Wait. Apologies if I’ve left anyone out. We’re a prolific and talented bunch.

2014 Malice signing

One of my favorite parts of Malice is arriving at the hotel, looking around the lobby (especially when the hotel has a lobby bar right next to registration) and immediately spotting people I know. There will be a lot of hugging involved before I ever get to the elevators to go up to my room and unpack. I make it a point to arrive on Thursday, even though nothing officially begins until the next day, to have more time to visit with old friends. That’s also the reason I stay over until Monday, although Malice ends with the Agatha Tea at mid-afternoon on Sunday.

Malice 2018

In between, there’s always plenty to keep me busy, and that’s not even counting the great variety of panels I could attend. More than once, I’ve gone to Malice and never managed to get to a single panel except the one I was on because I was fully occupied hanging out in the a) bar, even though I don’t drink, b) hospitality suite, and c) dealer room. In the latter, booksellers offer both new and backlist mysteries while other vendors, who vary from year to year, may sell everything from jewelry and vintage clothing to t-shirts with mystery-related slogans printed on them. This is not a good place to spend time if you’re on a budget! Temptation is great at the charity auction, too, where items range from the chance to name a character in a famous author’s next book to a basket full of goodies, including books and chocolate, related to the theme of someone’s cozy series.

Malice 2015

Even for those with a limit on how much they can spend don’t come away empty handed. At registration, each attendee is given a bag full of books and promotional material. Both this year and last year, I shipped boxes of my backlist titles to the bag-stuffing room. Other authors do the same, and publishers contribute new titles. There are also giveaways at the group signing sponsored by Kensington Books, who publish me, Barb Ross, and Lea Wait, among many others. We each get a carton of our newest title to sign and hand out, first come, first served.

2014 “You’ve Got Mail” panel with guests of honor

Other events at Malice that I’ll attend this year include the Agatha Awards Banquet, interviews with the guests of honor (Donna Andrews and Parnell Hall among others), a special viewing of an episode of Murdock Mysteries with a Q&A afterward with Maureen Jennings, who wrote the books on which the series is based, and the Sisters in Crime breakfast.

Malice 2014 with editor and agent

This year my panel is on Sunday morning and since it’s called “Book ‘Em: Book-Loving Sleuths” it will give me the chance to talk about my Deadly Edits series featuring retired teacher turned book doctor, Mikki Lincoln. Did I mention authors claim they go to Malice to promote new books? They do, of course, and sometimes we meet with our editors and/or agents, too, but it’s mostly just a big once-a-year reunion with friends in the mystery community. After months of solitude, we spend three or four days in non-stop socializing with like-minded souls and return home rejuvenated and ready to buckle down and write that next mystery novel.

With the June 2019 publication of Clause & Effect, Kathy Lynn Emerson/Kaitlyn Dunnett will have had sixty books traditionally published. She won the Agatha Award and was an Anthony and Macavity finalist for best mystery nonfiction of 2008 for How to Write Killer Historical Mysteries and was an Agatha Award finalist in 2015 in the best mystery short story category. She was the Malice Domestic Guest of Honor in 2014. Currently she writes the contemporary Liss MacCrimmon Mysteries and the “Deadly Edits” series as Kaitlyn. As Kathy, her most recent book is a collection of short stories, Different Times, Different Crimes. Her websites are and and she maintains a website about women who lived in England between 1485 and 1603 at A Who’s Who of Tudor Women.


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Maine Writers’ Signs of Spring

Today, we’re taking a break from our works in progress to share some photos and stories about the return of spring. Spring comes slowly to Maine, as the tips of trees grow red and the first small bits of yellow green create a furze along the roadsides. The bushes begin to leaf out, the fuzzy buds of flowering trees swell, and the vibrant yellow of forsythia explodes. Spring has a scent of its own, and everyone has something special that signals to them that it has returned.

The aching back from raking? The ruthless feeling as sharp clippers tame out-of-control shrubs? The sudden eruption of bird calls everywhere? That first warm night when frogs hop across the road, suddenly leaping into the headlights? The shrill sound of peepers in spring ponds? What signals the return of the spring to you?

Kate Flora: Spring is a hard season for me, as I find myself torn between the need to be at my desk, meeting my daily quota of a thousand words, and wanting to be out in the garden, raking off last year’s leaves and dead plants, and seeing what has survived the winter.


Susan Vaughan: My favorite signs of spring are in the woods. Our neighborhood maintains a woods path through all the properties. Once the ice has vanished, we have a babbling brook and a vernal pond with chirping tree frogs, along with the first blooms. Dogtooth violets (which are really yellow, not violet) and purple trilliums are the native bloomers. One neighbor has planted daffodils along the path too. I can happily walk the dog through the woods and plot as I enjoy the spring growth.

Maureen Milliken: While spring is definitely here — the temperature has mostly stayed above freezing the past couple weeks and it’s rained pretty much most of that time — the signs are less about pretty blossoms where I live and more about what happens with other things when the weather suddenly changes from frozen and snowcovered.

The buds have just emerged on the forsythia outside the window.

On the blossoms front, the forsythia next to my living room window has shown buds the past couple of days, so can blossoms be far behind? Off in the distance work on the town’s new gazebo continues after a winter hiatus, so that’s a good sign.

A sure sign of spring — the road work has started up again.

Also after a winter hiatus, the never-ending road work in my village has started up again. At 6 in the morning. SIGH.

My cat hanging out outside — a sure sign of spring.

My cat, who’s spent the last five months filling the litter box (she has a digestive problem) now prefers to spend more time outside than in, and has taken over the porch despite the fact I have yet to do my springtime cleaning of it. She doesn’t care — until it’s a little warmer out it means she gets the good chair for herself.

If it’s spring, it means the Kennebec River is raging!

I grew up in Augusta and one of the big signs of spring was Front Street downtown flooding when the river melts. I remember one year as a teen my brother Jimmy and I standing on a rickety wooden staircase that used to go down between two buildings as it rose and fell with the current because the bottom part had been washed away. Changes over the years, including adding a park and a water break means the flooding isn’t so severe, but it’s still fun to go down and check out the mighty Kennebec River as the snow in the mountains melts. And, of course, the rain continues.

The ducks wait for ice out on Sebec Lake.

Ice out is one of the biggest traditional signs of spring. I was up in Sebec a couple weeks ago and it hadn’t happened yet, though Sebec Lake was working on it. By the time I got back to my town, our lakes had made a big effort towards it, too.

People talk about it not being spring so much, but instead being mud season. While that’s the case in a lot of ways, sooner or later, that day will come when all the sudden the breeze is warm, the grass is green and all those blossoms have bloomed. I can’t wait!

John Clark: No photos, but some things that signal spring up here in the semi-wilderness. 1-Overwintered parsnips can be dug. 2-The FEDCO tree sale. not only a great chance to add to your fruit tree/berry, etc. collection, but a cultural event. May 3-4 this year. 3-Fields full of green grass and plenty of deer to eat it. 4-the bigger than expected brush pile gets burned, adding good stuff back into the garden. 5-New bird sounds (heard a cardinal the other day). 6-Town meeting.


Kaitlyn Dunnett/Kathy Lynn Emerson: Spring? What’s that? I’m writing this on April 29 and the temperature went down below freezing here in the western Maine mountains last night. On the bright side, the photo above, taken today, shows the very last of the snow I can see from my window. That’s the shady side of the garage, but the sun is shining today (miracle!), so with any luck we’ll be down to bare ground by the time you read this.


Brenda Buchanan:  Let me see, signs o’ spring.  Ah!  Took the flannel sheets off the bed. Swapped most of the turtlenecks in the dresser for long- and short-sleeved tops.  Put the corduroys away (well, all but one pair).

Excavated the back seat of the car to match up stray mittens and rescue winter hats. Put the long windshield scraper/brush away at the same time. Gave a good, long look at the jumble of boots in the garage, the first step to getting rid of the worn ones and stowing the keepers until November. Haven’t put on sneakers yet. Too darn wet.

The shovels will go to their summer place in the garage rafters soon.  I’m superstitious about that. May 1 and not one day sooner.

Pulled the cold frame from its winter storage spot and fitted it on the raised bed, seeded it with lettuce and spinach a week ago. Tiny green shoots are shooting!

Sandra Neily: Oops …  a day late to post but wanted to share. Up here at Moosehead Lake I can still snowshoe uphill at the closed ski area. That’s a lot easier than walking the dog on muddy roads. But there are signs of spring down where my camp is and here they are!

Canadian Geese in the sliver of open cove

Determined daffs.

Last week: my last ski around the edge of the lake. Not so much skiing……

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If there is a part of writing that gives me fits it’s POV, aka point of view. I can’t count the times that an editor or first reader has returned a manuscript with the notation POV!! written across several pages. I’ve always struggled with it and truth be known I still do. That said, I decided to do a blog on POV and how to avoid conflicts in it.

Once the first draft is completed and I enter the rewrite or self-edit phase of a project. I have a checklist of things that I look for; some of the items are: Show and tell, characterization and exposition, and, of course, Point of View. I find that I have to discipline myself to go through the manuscript several times, keying in on a different item each time.

In the show and tell pass I try to identify scenes or passages that are narrative summary with no specific setting or characters. In a court of law tell equals hearsay evidence. It’s the difference between getting a second hand report vs being at the scene. I try to follow the R. U. E. Rule. R. U. E=Resist the Urge To Explain.

When keying in on characterization and exposition I have always believed that there is no need to go into a great deal of detail in describing my characters . . . the reader will form an image of the character that usually relates to some aspect of the character that reminds them of someone. For example, Ian Fleming could spend three pages describing James Bond, but to me he’ll always look like Sean Connery. However, it is probably a good idea to provide the reader with enough specific details to help them capture the essence of the character. It is preferable to use exposition to gradually reveal a character’s personality versus an information dump. In short, introduce your characters in the same way they meet people–gradual discovery. I also strive for believable and a realistic characters. I have a friend who will not read my work; she doesn’t like my usage of profanity in dialogue (I received a review from a reader who said: I received this book as a goodreads giveaway. I couldn’t finish it because of all the swearing. What I did get through was intense and I didn’t want to put it down. But if a book has more swearing than a PG-13 movie is allowed then I don’t want to read it.) I’ve never met a criminal type whose vocabulary was PG-13.

Finally, the POV pass. I write in third person (the three forms of POV are: first person, third person, and omniscient) which allows me to easily move from character to character. First person restricts the reader to a single point of view, omniscient is not written from inside anyone’s head–it reached its most extreme form in the nineteenth century: “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.”–it was not uncommon for the author to address the reader directly.

For the longest time I had a problem with shifting POV within a paragraph or scene. I have had to discipline myself to change the scene when I want to change POV. By establishing whose POV we’re reading early in a scene gets the reader involved. It is probably best to establish POV in the first paragraph of a scene–ideally in the first sentence–to orient the reader.

In their book SELF-EDITING FOR FICTION WRITERS (Quill/Harper Resource, © 1993) Renni Browne and Dave King present a POV Checklist:

  • Which point of view are you using and why? How much intimacy do you want to create between your readers and your characters? Which point of view will make it easiest for you to unfold your story?
  • If you’re writing in first person, how reader-friendly is your viewpoint character? Is it someone you would want to spend three or four hundred pages with?
  • If you’re writing in third person, take a look at each scene. Whose head are you in? Do you stay in that head for the length of the scene?
  • How soon do you establish point of view? Where in the scene is the first line that tells your readers unambiguously whose head they are in?
  • Are you writing your scenes in your characters’ voices, describing their surroundings in terms they would use? Do you want to write in your characters’ voices or do you want something more neutral, more distant, more unobtrusive?

Probably the most important reason for watching POV closely: constant POV shifts can confuse a reader and keep them from finishing your book and from buying the next one.

In closing. In a little over two months My Brother’s Keeper, the second of my Ed Traynor crime/thriller will be released.

Coming July 2, 2019


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Weekend Update: April 27-28, 2019

Next week at Maine Crime Writers, there will be posts by Vaughn Hardacker (Monday), Kaitlyn Dunnett/Kathy Lynn Emerson (Wednesday) Kate Flora (Thursday), and Dick Cass (Friday). On Tuesday there will be a group post on the signs of spring.

In the news department, here’s what’s happening with some of us who blog regularly at Maine Crime Writers:

from Kaitlyn Dunnett: in May the e-book of Overkilt, the 12th Liss MacCrimmon mystery, will drop in price from $12.99 to $2.99 for the entire month. It’s also available in hardcover. The mass market paperback will be in stores August 27.





An invitation to readers of this blog: Do you have news relating to Maine, Crime, or Writing? We’d love to hear from you. Just comment below to share.

And a reminder: If your library, school, or organization is looking for a speaker, we are often available to talk about the writing process, research, where we get our ideas, and other mysteries of the business. Contact Kate Flora

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Spring Teaches Us to See

Kate Flora: Dorothy Cannell is unable to blog today, having been overrun with IMG_9473unexpected house guests, so I’m going to rerun a post from a few years ago that seems to have particular relevance at this season:

The way that writers see the world is a subject I return to fairly often, as you faithful readers may have noticed. This is the season that I slip away to the garden as often as I can. I love watching the tiny shoots of green grow taller every day until they become large, lush plants with the promise of flowers ahead. I prowl along the edge of the perennial bed, looking for those tiny volunteers that have escaped and are trying to survive in the grass of the lawn. I dig them up and find them new places to grow.

What do these shoots of green that seem to change overnight teach me? Perhaps about how this is much like the way a book begins. First it is just a tiny idea, and by pondering on it, it gradually grows to become the plot of a book. Like those tiny shoots, a book idea will need attention. It will need to be fertilized with essential questions like: What is this about and why is this book about this particular set of characters? It will need space to grow to it’s full size, in the brain and on the page. It will need the unnecessary ideas to be weeded out so that the plant can grow. Sometimes it will need to be cut back to make the plot fuller and less straggly.

image003-4Like a tender plant needing a gardener to tend it, a book idea needs the author to figure out what the story needs to make it grow into a successful book. What will fertilize it? How much water (or perhaps, in an authors case, how much alcohol) will it need to make it grow and achieve its full potential? What kind of research must be done to make the setting, characters, and plot feel authentic to a reader. And as in a successful garden, the plant, like a protagonist or antagonist, will need complimentary plants around it to illuminate it and compliment it. What complimentary shapes and sizes and colors will enhance a perennial bed? What sidekicks, bosses, clients, or love interests will shape and enhance your protagonist?

And of course, as in any garden there will be the weeds, roots, rocks, and pests, that will want to thwart successful growth to a mature plant, there will be the obstacles internal and external, and the antagonists, both natural and human, which must be overcome in order for the story to come to a successful conclusion where order is restored to the world.

Finally, like a well-told story that is coming to its conclusion, there is the moment in the garden when that plant has been successfully fertilized, watered, and protected from weeds and insects, and it fulfills its purpose by producing colorful leaves andglorious flowers. With the book, that is the moment when the writer types: The End, and sits back with a smile of satisfaction.

Of course, just as in a well-tender garden, plants need to be divided, cut back, or shuffled around to new locations, generally typing: The End is not the end. It is simply the beginning of the next process–revision.

May your words flow and your garden grow!

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A Simmering Conundrum

John Clark feeling conflicted, perhaps more than at any point in the past thirty years. When I was campaigning last year, I got a phone call from a lady I knew from my days as the Hartland librarian. She said that her parents were having a terrible time with a foul odor coming from our town landfill and weren’t getting anywhere with the powers that be here in town.

Site of the former tannery annex, we’re hoping new industry will locate here.

I stopped by the town office to chat with Chris Littlefield, our town manager. The upshot was a meeting a week or so later with Earl and Paula Hughes, the affected couple, Chris, a representative from Department of Environmental Protection-DEP, the engineer overseeing our wastewater treatment plant and the landfill and the town employee overseeing the landfill operation. It was at least a two hour meeting and I came away feeling like everyone was on the same page. I also realized that I had developed an interest in exploring new methods of recycling and if elected, planned on running with that interest. (Still very interested in this.)

Fast forward to the election. I wasn’t elected, the problem of odor at the landfill had gotten worse to a point where family members on different sides of the issue weren’t speaking to each other and the number of affected citizens had grown significantly. Some of them who lived on Martin street which was right above the landfill, were experiencing an infestation of rats, while others were so affected by the smell that they could no longer open their windows. In short, it was a mess in more ways than one and was on the verge of splitting Hartland into two camps. Some of the citizens who were hit by the smell told me that they felt uncomfortable when shopping in the local grocery store because the tension was palpable and they were unable to look other people in the eye because they weren’t sure what their take on the odor issue was.

The landfill as it currently looks.

Between November and March, the issue simmered, then exploded. A group calling itself Heartland Environmental Advisory Team-HEAT, began attending most, if not all selectman’s meetings, videotaping them, and then published a flyer demanding the landfill be closed, following that up by circulating a petition for voters to sign demanding the landfill be closed.

What brought this tension to the surface? First some history. The landfill was approved in the mid 1970s by the DEP. At that time, the Irving Tannery, the town’s biggest employer, needed a place to dump their waste. Unfortunately, the lining used for the original landfill cell wasn’t anywhere near what’s used today and leachate spread. One contaminant from the tanning process is chromium. When water samples began showing high levels of it, the tannery worked with the Maine Water Company to create a public water supply/distribution system and connected anyone thought to be at risk for free. As time went on and technology improved, better liners were used as new cells were added to the landfill and chromium levels began to decrease. Any leachate (liquid settling at the bottom of the landfill) was piped to a lined lagoon and then trucked to the wastewater plant where it was processed, essentially creating a closed leachate system.

The closed leachate system

One hard fact of life is that when a landfill closes, it must be monitored for thirty years after closure. That creates an ongoing expense for the town and while funding to start things is often easily obtainable, funding to close or monitor something isn’t. This was, in part, how the stink came to be. Chris wanted to try to get ahead of the future costs by taking in waste from outside Hartland. That came in the form of septage from Brewer. While that was arriving daily, the odor increased. If you talk to one side of this equation, you hear that the odor got a hell of a lot worse after Brewer’s sludge started arriving. Talk to the other and you’ll get a different response. The truth, like in most controversies, probably lies somewhere in between, but sides have been taken and angry words exchanged.

To the credit of Chris and the selectmen, they asked a number of citizens representing different disciplines and perspectives to form a community focus group to come up with factual information and answers to questions that some in town feel haven’t been answered. Both Beth and I were asked to be on it. Our first meeting was last night and lasted two hours. We will meet as long and as often as necessary to get as much factual information as possible. we’re likely to face some hostility and disbelief, but that goes with the territory. Stay tuned to see what shakes out in this process.

On a very positive note, we will soon lease town land below and around the landfill to a company that will install 4.3 megawatts of solar panels, something I’ve been advocating for for the past four years.

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The Mysteries That Got Me Hooked on Reading

I came across a box of books from my childhood the other day while going through stuff in my mom’s garage. Aside from the favorites my mom saved from when I was wee – The Diggingest Dog, Peter Rabbit, Winnie the Pooh, etc. – there were also a few books that I revisited a multitude of times as a pre-teen. The Calico Year, by Dorothy Gilman Butters, was one of my all-time favorites – I started re-reading that one last night, and am pleased to say it totally stands the test of time. Along with a slew of YA romance-y books (You Can’t Take Twenty Dogs on a Date and The Year of the Horse were also big for me), there were several mysteries by Mary C. Jane, along with those featuring the Power Boys, the Hardy Boys, and – of course – Nancy Drew. My favorite find, however, was a whole stash of Trixie Belden books. Oh, the joy.

It may be tantamount to slander around here, but the truth is that I was never much of a fan of Nancy Drew. She seemed too… girly, somehow, and there never seemed to be enough at stake in her mysteries to keep me invested in her fate. I was looking for a grittier brand of adventure, someone more dramatic; a story where anything could happen, and the heroine didn’t mind getting a little dirt on her hands in the name of justice.

Trixie Mystery #1I found what I was looking for in the form of Trixie Belden, a spunky amateur sleuth in her early teens who, with her brothers Brian, Mart, and Bobby, got into every kind of fix imaginable in their happy little hamlet in the Hudson River Valley. The first six books in the thirty-nine volume Trixie Belden series were written by Julie Campbell Tatham, with the first in the series—The Secret of the Mansion—published in 1948. A handful of authors wrote under the pseudonym of Kathryn Kenny after that time, and several of the books have been reprinted as recently as 2006. And, yes, they are available for Kindle!

If you were (or are) a fan of the series, you’ll remember that Trixie’s glamorous neighbor Honey Wheeler was Trixie’s boon companion and partner in crime, along with Honey’s adopted brother Jim Frayne. Long before I even knew what shipping was, I was a hardcore Jim/Trixie shipper. As a ten-year-old, diehard romantic, the subtext between the two characters was more than enough to convince me that Jim and Trixie would be together forever—something my best friend Michelle and I discussed at length whenever we were given the chance.

I grew up in the days before Amazon or the Internet, which meant being a fan of a largely out-of-print series was no small task. Summers, I scoured yard sales near and far in search of editions missing from my collection. The summer I turned ten, my dad hit the mother lode when he found someone getting rid of their entire Trixie Belden collection. Boxes and boxes of Belden books were suddenly mine. My BFF and I burned through that entire collection that summer. Michelle was three years older than me, and I recall that Trixie was our last common bond before she drifted into the mysterious world of boys and clothes and high school strife, leaving me abandoned to the lonely, limited world of the pre-teen.

When I think of myself in those days—pudgy and nearsighted, aching for adventure in our sleepy little Maine town—I remember so well just how completely those mysteries transported me. I was the quintessential ‘bookworm,’ reading through recess while the other kids played; reading through lunch at school and dinner with the family; my nose buried in a book even as I walked home every afternoon, the icy Maine wind chapping my pink cheeks while I crept through the forests of the Hudson River Valley alongside Trixie and her band of merry sleuths.

Today, though the Trixie Belden books are out of print, the series lives on in some surprising ways. There’s an active world of fan fiction out there, following Trixie’s exploits as she grew. Though we had no way of knowing it at the time, Michelle and I weren’t alone in thinking Jim and Trixie were destined to be together: much of the fanfic out there is “Jix”-centric, focused on the duo as they get older and the romance evolves. I love that these books have endured for so long, and it gives me an odd sense of redemption to know that these characters cast as indelible a mark on others as they did on the shy, self-conscious fifth grader that I once was, reading on the swings while the other girls skipped rope.  I wasn’t alone; I just didn’t know it at the time.

What are the childhood favorites you still carry with you today? Which characters did you long to be, or wish you knew? It doesn’t matter whether they’re mystery, fantasy, romance, or something else entirely—I’d love to hear which books made you love reading!

Jen Blood is the USA Today-bestselling author of the Erin Solomon Mysteries and the Flint K-9 Search and Rescue Mysteries. You can learn more at 

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