Think Murder


By Cassidy Salem


Adina Donati works at a think tank in Washington, D.C. One night she and a friend go out for drinks and the friend ends up dead in the restroom. In time, Donati comes to believe that the project on which her friend was working may relate to her murder. When she begins investigating, she puts herself in danger.

Basic plot. Not complex or intricate.

Adina Donati: 25, administrative assistant for Drake University for Policy Planning and Research, dark wavy hair, fair complexion, brown eyes, enjoys photography, fluent in several languages

Jonathan Saks: Homicide detective, average features, former New York cop

Daniel Sullivan: lawyer, tall, dark hair and eyes, homosexual

Kaye Blunt: Human Resources Director at Adina’s employer

Matt Murphy: Director of Energy Programs, mid fifties, large stomach, has five children

Grayson: has the title of Doctor, director at Adina’s employer

Michelle: 25, works with Adina

Duncan Fletcher: Adina’s former boyfriend, sandy hair, almost 6′

Bruce Dunn: dark hair, olive complexion, green eyes, over 6′, physiotherapist

A lot of characters, very few with physical descriptions including the main character. I didn’t get a picture of her.

I thought with the number of characters, there might be some red herring suspects thrown in, but most of the cast is filler. Duncan, who could have been a prime suspect, was demoted, as are most others, to a minor role. Bruce and Jonathan get some spotlight, but where Bruce might have made for another wonderful suspect, nothing portended possible danger. Ditto with coworkers.

Conversations tend to stay short with not much action going on during them. A little, but not much. As I mention below about Adina doing things that don’t relate to the murder, there are several conversations that are wasted space – talking with friends, family, etc. Many conversations ran to sympathizing with Adina about her friend’s death, have the police any leads, no not really, okay how about your love life. Again, with so many characters, conversations could have added tension, suspicion, clues.

First person from Adina’s POV. Relatively short chapters. Pretty quick read.

After the murder is committed, nearly 45% of the book is covered before some link to the mystery is seen. There is a lot of Adina doing stuff – talking to friends, visiting the zoo, etc, that doesn’t do anything but fill space. I kept wanting her to find a clue to the murder.

The entire motive seemed a bit weak because I didn’t see any solid ‘stuff’. Connections were too loose. The explanation was too pat. No surprises. The climactic scene near the end wasn’t very tension filled and when it ended, so did the story, for the most part.

Clean writing. No grammar/punctuation/spelling problems. I just didn’t feel close to the story.

My Rank:

Camouflage Belt


Devil’s Nightmare

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By Robert Pruneda


Three children are slaughtered in a cemetery. The fourth, the lone survivor then watches as his parent are similarly murdered. Who…or what killed them? Detective Aaron Sanders’ investigation leads him down a dark path, one where he can’t believe his eyes…or his dreams. Or can he? As the case deepens and the body count rises, Sanders enters a world where evil reigns and the fate of one child rests in his hands.

For a murder mystery horror, it’s hard to beat a good scary tale. This one has suspense and the supernatural.


Aaron Sanders: Austin homicide investigator, drives a black ’81 Corvette, divorced twice, parents dead, ex smoker, played football in high school

David Hernandez: police chief

Cody Sumner: blond

Donald Luther: medical examiner

Kenneth Chandler: tall, middle aged, married with son, owns dogs, owns a Corvette

Gene Bukowski: psychologist

Robert Smith: married with two children, works in advertising

Reggie Santiago: works in a funeral home with his dad, played football in high school

Steven Riley: detective, tall, twenties, black hair, father was a cop, former youth minister

Jerome Hadley: director of a youth home, British

A nice cast although I had difficulty getting a mental picture of some of them because physical descriptions weren’t prevalent. Sanders comes off as a walk-the-line cop who takes chances when he believes he’s right. There is the counselor who plays the romantic interest with just the right amount of play-hard-to-get.


Some good voices, especially from Hernandez. Dialogue is succinct with the right amount of humor, sarcasm, etc.


Chapters are titled. Profanity. Most of the book is first person from Aaron’s POV. Some punctuation problems (commas in the wrong places). However, I won’t count off too much since I was reading an ARC.

The author did a good job of showing reality when it comes to DNA testing.

There’s an interesting twist at the end but at the end I didn’t quite understand the relationship between the monster and the child. Not when other characters had other explanations of what needed to happen.

Action might have used a bit more show than tell but it was still tight and good. The fight scenes lasted long enough to be real.

There was a long build up to the scary stuff. This doesn’t mean the story dragged. The build up lasted awhile which was okay.

This was a well-written story with some good scary. Keep the lights on and…maybe watch those dreams at night…

My Rank:

Purple Belt


The Intern


By Dale Wiley



1995. Trent Norris in an intern for the NEA. One day he intercepts an enigmatic message and soon after a murder is committed that Trent connects to the message. Now he’s on the run, framed for the murder and committing crimes himself to stay one step ahead of the bad guys.

An amusement filled story that tells of ‘an innocent caught up in something he can’t escape’. Interesting time frame too, before the Internet became the rage, before Smart phones and tablets.


Trent Norris: 22, National Endowment for the Arts intern, formerly an intern for many groups and individuals, drives a Toyota, owns a guitar, majored in English at Emory University

Joe: Trent’s boss, bearded, barrel chested, baritone

Kurt: office manager in Trent’s department, homosexual, blond, handsome

Stephanie: 25, average height, shoulder length brown hair, brown eyes, law student at Georgetown, attended Charleston College, majored in English and Engineering, athletic

Tabitha Robertson: Stephanie’s friend, blonde, father is into horse racing, majored in engineering, mother dead, has two brothers

Angie: Trent’s roommate

Many character’s, including the girlfriend, don’t have last names and/or not much physical description. I don’t recall Trent’s last name being given till several chapters in.


Some good voices. Trent does a good job imitating voices.


First person from Trent’s POV. Book divided into Days. A bit of mild profanity. A few punctuation mistakes that I can let slide because I read a pre-release copy. I’ll assume the final copy will have been proofread and corrections made.

A few small lol moments and general light-hearted scenes throughout despite the serious nature of the situation. It’s one that if you don’t think too deeply about it, it’s enjoyable.

Good use of period technology – intranet, zip disks, etc.

However, I have a small problem with the cause of Trent’s reason for running. Without playing spoiler: at his workplace, he intercepts a message about somebody ‘taking care of a problem’. He puts the message on a supervisor’s desk. Then later, after the murder and Trent’s connecting it to the message, he places another ‘I know what you did’ message under the supervisor’s door. Then the troubles begin. My question is: how did the supervisor and/or the bad guys know it was Trent who took the original message and placed the second under the door. It’s not like he signed them. The explanation given later is not exactly a leap over a chasm, but maybe a gap. Not too far-fetched but not rock solid either

The other problem is: yes, I know the author, to make a story, had to have Trent run all over town, but the sensible thing would have been to go to the police-as Trent had originally thought about-and explain everything. He wasn’t in all that much trouble at first.

This author has a similar problem I have in my first person writing, which is staying close to the character in scene. Sometimes, in the moment the narrator-first-person steps in and takes the reader out of the action/tension/emotion. The reader loses touch with the character.

Some unnecessary ‘ly’ words. A bit tighter writing all around is needed, but still a decent mystery that just gets crazier by the moment.

My Rank:

Green Belt


No Time To Lose


By Matt Baak


Bank robbers have stolen far more from a high secure vault than what expected to find. In addition to hundreds of millions in movie companies’ bearer bonds, they looted a national treasure given to the United States by Japan, and plans for a new submarine. Enter Kip Keplar, FBI consultant, who takes on the case.

It starts as a pretty good who- and how-dunnit. However, with ‘no time to lose’ there seems to be an awful lot of time that goes by with nothing happening. The mystery and the investigation get shoved onto a back burner amidst all of the extra stuff that doesn’t have anything to do with the main story. Plus, the plot gets more un-believable as it goes along.


Kip Keplar: 36, athletic, long flaxen blond hair, cobalt blue eyes, married with three children, operates a charity, drives a black A8 Audi, inherited wealth, former FBI and CIA agent, has a brother

Cam Walker: 44, senior VP of American Trust Bank, black curly hair, black eyes, 5’10”, on his second marriage, drives a silver Mercedes SL550 Roadster

Enrique ‘Ricky’ Alvaro: ex Marine

Mogul: smokes, criminal, missing the both small toes, average features

Reginald G. Parrington: bank president, nervous personality, short black hair, wears glasses

John Brozski: L.A. FBI Branch Assistant Director, 6’2”, athletic, steel gray balding hair,

Jessica Eggins: 45, small stature, works for the Smithsonian Institute, 5′ dark hair, dark eyes, pale skin

Sam ‘Little Sammy’ Cirrelli: father, brother and son dead, 5’9”, dark hair, mobster

One problem I had with Kip is I didn’t know what his job was until I was farther into the book. FBI employee or consultant or John’s friend? He ran a charity but there was no solid connection to the FBI until a much later explanation. (See continuity problem below.)

There’s a scene where an FBI agent makes a joke to a man who’s wife in the hospital? No!

A lot of secondary or minor characters with way too much background info.


I couldn’t sense any voices. Some characters spoke very formally, others tried to sound like a baddie. Conversations tended to be short or very long explanations.


Some chapters are headed by date, time, and location. Short and long chapters.

A few misspelled words.

There is a lot of ‘telling’ by the narrator especially in the action scenes. Just once did I get anywhere close to a character in scene. By staying at a distance, there are POV shifts within paragraphs and I lost the sense of tension. The narrator sometimes went farther out to make a general statement about matters, then back in toward the action. By doing this, the feel for the moment is lost, there is no emotion/feeling shown.

Some paragraphs have several sentences in a row that begin with the same word. One I saw had every sentence begin with ‘He’. Another word was ‘it’.

One strange thing I didn’t understand: Kip is desperately needed at the FBI office to discuss the case but when he arrives, he waits a long time before seeing anyone, and then is rushed again, but in the next scene he’s waiting around to hear a lengthy story.

Continuity problem (sort of): In a flashback several chapters in, it is told that Kip was a new FBI agent when he met his future wife. Then just paragraphs later, he decides to quit the CIA. This problem was solved a few chapters later with an explanation but it made for confusion before. The reader needs to know who and what Kip is before a third of the book is gone.

A lot of the writing, especially from the narrator, could have been tighter. (Example: With Kip by her side and Mette, as they could best determine, being within an acceptable state of stable health and of sound mind, they were sat down and told, that for her, the birth of a child was no longer possible.) This is a convoluted sentence that could have been written in a clearer manner. As best who could determine? ‘That for her’ – well, who else would we be speaking about? Certainly not Kip. (Example: “I’ve made arrangements with the hospital to see her early tomorrow morning to see if we can learn anything from her directly.”) ‘Directly’ is not needed. It’s understood the patient is the person to whom the agent will be speaking. (Example: One chapter starts with a discussion of a town and Cam’s inability to have a house across a state border. Then the scene switches to a hospital room. What was the point of the opening paragraph?

Not believable: The Navy keeping plans for a secret submarine in a bank vault. Navy personnel discussing the details of the secret submarine to FBI agents and consultants.

A lot of material in many scenes are extraneous and too long.

This is a lot of scattered stuff with a hint of cohesion. I had thought for awhile I’d give this a rank of yellow, but the more I read, the more matters stop being believable.

My Rank:

White Belt


Just Recompense


By Douglas Spencer Wallis



Britsher Basil Ackroyd, mayor of the French town of Durac, is in trouble. He owes his Italian uncle a lot of money. An insurance investigator has questions regarding a fire. One of his buildings is desired by the local constabulary and Basil’s wife, but is reported to be available as a refuge for illegal immigrants. An old ‘friend’ shows up with another scheme to pay owed debts…but winds up dead instead. Meanwhile, a young woman in the government is outraged at the reports of illegals and plans to make Basil pay.

Add in a Russian and a Chinese and this makes for a crazy complex concoction. The plot jumps from item to item so try to keep up.


Basil Ackroyd: British, mayor of the French town of Durac, smokes cigars, has a sister, owns a motorbike, rotund stomach, has children, has a mustache

Elizabeth Lindy Ackroyd: Basil’s wife, company owner

Sid: cafe owner

Jack Waldo ‘Ginger’ Frampton: drives a Mercedes truck, divorced

Leticia Frampton: obese, Ginger’s sister

Claudine Dubois: insurance investigator

Abdul Bin Avay: has some gold in his teeth, dark skin, notary public

Jean Paul Beauclaire: has the rank of Captain

Everybody in this book is nuts. Basil reminds me a bit of Cleese’s Basil Fawlty. Not many physical descriptions for characters, but I could get a vague sense of them through their personalities.


Basil’s secretary’s voice comes through because of her personality. So does Leticia’s. Some conversations tend to go back and forth at a rapid pace like an old radio comedy. Near the end there are lengthy explanatory conversations.


Some profanity.

This reads like a comedy show. There’s some corny humor, prat fall type antics and a roundabout way of getting to the end. It’s a different read than most. With so many characters with so many connections, it took me awhile to get into it and even when I started too, it veered off around another corner.

Still a pretty good read. I debated awhile on what rank to give it but decided that the clean writing (I didn’t see mistakes in grammar, spelling, etc) earned it:

Purple Belt


Black Rose


By Alex Lukeman



When samples of a bio-weapon are stolen, American Project members are on the case. Who’s taken the samples and why? The Russians? An old Project enemy named AEON? And how does a shadowy individual called Adam figure into the matter? It’s up to Nick Carter, fiancee Selena Connor, and the rest of Project to stop an organization bent on setting loose an unstoppable plague. Oh, and don’t forget those pesky Russians.

Good thriller material. Good guys versus baddies with some interpersonal relationships added into the mix.


Nick Carter: former Marine Recon, works for the Project, scar on left ear, smoky gray eyes, short black hair, 6′, just under 200 lbs, has problems with formerly broken fingers

Selena Connor: Nick’s fiancee, works for the Project, fluent in many languages, expertise for ancient languages, knows martial arts, violet eyes, reddish blonde hair

Lamont Cameron: works for the Project, black, blue eyes, facial scar, former SEAL,

Elizabeth Harker: Director of the Project, keeps a cat in her office

Stephanie Willits: Project computer techie, formerly with the NSA

Alexei Ivanovich Vysotsky: in the Russian Foreign Intelligence Service, black eyes, bushy eyebrows, 50s, silver streaked receding hair, stocky build

Johannes Gutenburg: chairman of AEON, married, bank owner, near 60, green eyes

Adam: head of the Guardians, drives a modified Cadillac

Rice: United States President, blue/green eyes,

Some of the attitudes of the Project people seem a little relaxed: “I could have been in that car when the bomb exploded.” “Neat gadget.” Okay, these are paraphrases of the actual dialogue but I didn’t feel the emotion of danger when danger was near. And these guys are supposed to be professionals. They’re not going to be ogling over their spy toys. Also, they shouldn’t be explaining to each other about the difference between weapons. Shouldn’t they already know the difference because of their training?

Don’t be a minor character. You don’t last too long.


No real distinguishable voices. Everybody spoke like Midwestern Americans.


One thing that was not believable is that the Koreans had multiple security measures in their lab before anybody was able to get within ten feet of the bio samples and yet Project members walked right into another lab in Switzerland and found the samples almost right away. No key card or coded lock doors? NO bio-hazard suits needed? I would have thought that the team would have done a bit more research into the building to figure out everything before infiltration. They did later when making a decision to breach a chateau.

Also not believable is the leader of the bad guy organization doesn’t use encrypted computers but a regular, easy-to-break password.

The tension is surface. Action almost too quick. A lot of telling and not showing the effects of bullets and bombs upon the main characters.

Only because it was a decent thriller otherwise, did it make not being any lower ranked.

My Rank:

Green Belt


Jack’s Wagers

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By Wirton Arvel

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A down and out man named Jack, for whom nothing goes right, is about to start an amazing adventure. First he meets and beats the Devil not once, but twice. Then he sets out on a journey to find himself and ends up creating a legend.

This is a version of Halloween or Samhain and of the origin of the Jack O’Lantern. Interesting take on an ancient theme.


Jack O’Lantern: blacksmith, gambler

The Devil

Other than some minor characters Jack and the Devil are the major two. There’s a fair amount of information on Jack. No physical details for him.


Some of the dialogue is with quotes and some delineated by dashes. I’m not sure why the author did this but in one case he mixed the two. Probably should have chosen one for all dialogue.


Titled chapters. Long and complex sentences. Relatively short story.

The writing is lofty and prosaic yet-and despite the complexity-simple. That’s not to say childishly simple, just plain, to the point. With the writing style and the ‘age’ of the story, I found the use of the word ‘pinball’ out of place.

This story is all the narrator telling the story. There are a few instances of Jack’s thoughts, but from the narrator’s POV. Because of this I didn’t really get into the character of Jack, to really feel him or for him. This is an overview of Jack’s life with little detail on his youth and scant details about his adult life. Maybe some more specific instances of adventures as we saw with his meetings with the Devil? More showing?

My Rank:

Green Belt


The Other Woman


by Hank Phillippi Ryan


Jane Ryland is a new reporter for the Boston Register, trying to distance herself from a controversial time as a television reporter. She’s assigned to interview Moira Lassiter, whose husband, Owen, is running for the Senate. She suspects an affair when Moira won’t agree to meet. She’s also seeking information about an enigmatic woman in a red coat who makes regular appearances on the campaign trail.

Jake Brogan, homicide investigator, is two bodies deep into a murder case the press is attributing to the ‘Bridge Killer’. When a third victim is discovered to be directly related to Ryland’s past, she and Brogan agree to-somewhat-work together to find the answers.

Other parties are interested in Owen Lassiter, ones with devastating connections to Owen…and to each other. Individuals who are so determined, they won’t let anything stand in their way…

An intriguing political thriller. Some are good, some not so. This is better than most. The connections between characters add to the overall plot very well.

Jane Ryland: 32, disgraced former television reporter she is a new reporter for the Boston Register, has a sister, father is a doctor, drives an Audi TT, mom dead, spiky short walnut brown hair

Jacob Dellacort Brogan: 35, homicide investigator in Boston, grandfather was a police golden retriever, takes notes on a Blackberry

Alex Wyatt: editor for the Boston Register, wears wire rim glasses, married, graduated from the Columbia School of Journalism, cobalt eyes

Owen Lassiter: Former Massachusetts governor, running for Senate, handsome, flinty eyes, silver hair, married, no children

Moira Kelly Lassiter: Owen’s wife, silver blonde, former ballerina

Eleanor Mead Gable: Lassiter’s opponent, ash blonde pageboy cut hair, comes from a wealthy family

A plethora of characters, but Ryan does a good job of distinguishing personalities. She added just enough mystery and hidden truths to some keep me guessing. There are other characters I didn’t add these because, first, I didn’t want to add an unintentional spoiler, and second, because I had to read a lot farther into the book before I discovered the truths. I enjoyed the play between Brogan and Ryland since they were close for a short time. Owen is a standard politician type character.

Good voices that come through well. Conversations stay on point.

Relatively short chapters. At the time of writing this review I had done a blog about irritating misuses of language so I’ve been watchful for those instances. Ryan avoided one of the common mistakes I see a lot. Solid writing. Since this contains bits of a police procedural, with a suspense seen where reporters are characters, the action isn’t until later. With each piece of the story moving inexorably toward a focal climactic point, I didn’t mind the snippets of three of four stories going on.

My Rank:

Brown Belt


The Heist: 50 Shades Of Green

Front Cover The Heist

By Bonnie Lee



Tax specialist Kim Stillwell is bored. That situation comes to an end when a client walks in and dumps a bunch of cash on her desk, then runs out, and promptly gets shot. What’s going on? It’s Kim’s job to find the answer…while trying to establish a relationship with a hunky beau…and avoiding telling the cops anything that could ruin her business.

Well, why not? You have cooking mysteries, knitting mysteries, a plethora of cat and dog mysteries, why not tax mysteries? It makes for a unique story and gives the author a good challenge which is how to work tax related information into a mystery.


Kim Stillwell: 33, 5’9”, tax specialist, drives a silver BMW

Susan: Kim’s sister, author, works at a dog care center, attended Stanford

Simon Dunfey: operates a cabinet making business, owns horses

Maggie Dunfrey: Simon’s wife, early 30s, beauty mark below her lower lip, raven hair, small frame

‘Mac’ McCarthy: police officer, early 50s, paunchy, 6’2”, brown eyes, thin grey hair

Luke Hunter: musician, 6’6”, owns a cat

All right, first off, I must give a big raspberry to the author because she included a character who scored big with a literary agent. Shame on her for rubbing it in for the rest us schlubs who’ve received rejection after rejection. Lol.

Otherwise, I like the characters although Luke comes on a bit obsessive. Yeah, I realize Kim was shot at and he cares for her, but it seemed that Luke wanted to know where was every minute of the day and became upset when she didn’t answer her phone. Sheesh, pal, the lady has a life and a job. I know, it’s inevitable she will be in danger, but just comes off a bit strong.


A capitalization error on a tag line. A bit of punctuation problem in a conversation. Kim’s voice comes through best. Luke’s does too, although as mentioned above, he goes a bit over the top in his “I’m so worried about you and care about you so much. Let’s talk marriage and children right away.” Really? Any woman I know would be saying, “Hey buddy, back off with the putting-a-ring-on-it business.”


Most chapters end with a tax tip that is related to something in the chapter. Chapters are titled. A couple instances of minor profanity.

Some of the book is third person past. Some is first person present from Kim’s POV. Some of the book is third person present. A bit of a mixing of tenses at times. A couple capitalization errors.

So, I’m reading along and it’s pretty standard fare with the usual cops not liking the protagonist, the romance angle, and the kidnapping. Except, that the last suddenly goes off into goofy land. Okay, so there’s no major problem with goofy, just that with a longer book this part would have been set up or foreshadowed or hinted at (a scene early on showing the baddie in the unique situation that is in this book). With a relatively short story here, you have to takes things in stride.

Still pretty good.

My Rank:

Green Belt


The Blue Journal


By L. T. Graham


When small town resident Elizabeth Knoebell is murder, former New York investigator Anthony Walker is on the case. He soon finds a series of stories and notes on Elizabeth’s computer that pertain to sexual encounters. But are the stories fictional? How is the fact that Elizabeth and her husband were both seeing Randi Conway, a psychologist, related? Are any of Conway’s other clients involved?

A steamy filled murder mystery. Sex, violence, and secrets waiting to be revealed. What other elements do you need?


Anthony Walker: 39, Lieutenant Detective, formerly with New York force, Irish/Italian descent, father was a police officer, attended John Jay College, divorced, has two daughters, drives a Ford Explorer, smokes

Randi Conway: psychologist, tall, blonde, attractive, middle 30s, brown eyes, sandy colored hair,

Stanley Knoebel: surgeon, wife is killed at the beginning, born in Romania, has a daughter, receding hairline, thin lips, pale blue eyes

Fran Colello: 45, married with children, dark eyes, brunette, housewife, smokes

Teddy Blasko: computer consultant to the police

Robert Stratford: Conway’s lawyer, Selectman, married, athletic physique, opaque brown eyes, straight brown hair

A varied cast that might need a playbill to remember who’s who. With the different personalities, it’s difficult sometimes to let everybody have time in the spotlight, if even for a short time. In this story he author gives a decent amount of snippet scenes to provide enough “Yeah, she/he could be the killer” thoughts. Good, basic descriptions but enough for me to have a decent mental image. Stanley is one of those characters you love to dislike because of his brusque personality.

I did think that the characters have enough background information so that I didn’t just easily dismiss them as throwaway. Strong personalities.

The more I moved through the story the more I came to not particularly enjoy Conway. I felt she wasn’t a very good psychologist. Her patients kept wanting to leave and during any sessions or talks, she didn’t seem to offer any substantive advice on solving the problems. She’d ask questions, but never got anywhere. She ran off to talk with a friend but the topics varied from her love life to the murder to her role as a psychologist…but again, nothing was solved. Her patients seemed to get worse as the days passed which doesn’t bode well for her reputation. However, as an aspect of ‘character development’ maybe that was the point.


Again, with so many characters, voices are tough to distinguish. I think the two main characters, Walker and Conway with the supporting roles of another officer and the Captain stand out. I think some conversations, while at first appearing to be unimportant, contain insights either to round out characters or point the finger-temporarily-at a particular person.


Profanity. Warning: Sex scenes included that read like letters to Penthouse.

This book is more of a soap opera with a mystery than a strict police procedural. Several subplots, some with more importance than others. There is a bit of suspense with the murderer lurking in the shadows every so often.

The graphic nature of, and the numerous passages of sex scenes was a bit of a turnoff for me.

Still a pretty good mystery.

My Rank:

Purple Belt



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