Book Review: The Wicked Cometh by Laura Carlin

The Wicked ComethAbout the Book

The year is 1831. Down the murky alleyways of London, acts of unspeakable wickedness are taking place and no one is willing to speak out on behalf of the city’s vulnerable poor as they disappear from the streets.  Out of these shadows comes Hester White, a bright young woman who is desperate to escape the slums by any means possible.  When Hester is thrust into the world of the aristocratic Brock family, she leaps at the chance to improve her station in life under the tutelage of the fiercely intelligent and mysterious Rebekah Brock. But whispers from her past slowly begin to poison her new life and both she and Rebekah are lured into the most sinister of investigations.

Hester and Rebekah find themselves crossing every boundary they’ve ever known in pursuit of truth, redemption and passion. But their trust in each other will be tested as a web of deceit begins to unspool, dragging them into the blackest heart of a city where something more depraved than either of them could ever imagine is lurking . . .

Format: ebook, hardcover(352 pp.)  Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton
Published: 1st February 2018             Genre: Historical Fiction

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*links provided for convenience, not as part of any affiliate programme

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My Review

Following a narrow escape from under the wheels of a carriage, Hester is taken under the wing of a handsome young surgeon, Calder Brock, who, in an echo of Pygmalion, sets out to prove that the poor are capable of education.  Hester finds herself drawn to Calder’s sister, Rebekah, who is charged with her tuition.  Soon Hester becomes eager for any excuse to be in Rebekah’s presence, daring to hope that her own feelings might be returned.   ‘Then something changes – the meeting of a kindred spirit, the potency of mutual trust – and the tender graces of self-belief once more visit themselves upon us and we are as complete as ever we may be.’

The author concentrates on building up the atmosphere of the period and the various locations in the first half of the book.   The writing conjures up the sights, sounds and smells of the seedier parts of London: dank cellars, dark alleyways, mire-strewn streets, secret thoroughfares used for illicit purposes.

The pace of the story really picks up in the second half as Rebekah and Hester embark on their investigation into the disappearances, risking everything as they enter the realm of individuals who have few scruples in dealing with those who get in their way.  Soon they are in parts of London without light both literally and metaphorically. ‘Dark with the business of the people who live here.  Dark with the deeds that are done.’  With the benefit of historical hindsight, I had a pretty good idea of what was going on so the interest was mainly in watching Hester and Rebekah feel their way slowly towards the shocking truth.

I enjoyed The Wicked Cometh and thought it was an assured debut.  I admired the writing and the way the author skilfully evoked the atmosphere of the dark underbelly of London.  There were also some intriguing plot elements revealed at the end.  I’ll confess I was left with the slight sense at the end that I’d read it all before in other books (admittedly a bit of an occupational hazard if, like me, you read a lot of historical fiction).  However, I would definitely look out for further books from this author.

I received an advance reader copy courtesy of NetGalley and publishers Hodder & Stoughton in return for an honest and unbiased review.

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In three words: Atmospheric, Gothic, mystery

Try something similar…The Wages of Sin by Kaite Welsh (click here to read my review)


Laura CarlinAbout the Author

Laura Carlin left school at 16 to work in retail banking and it was only after leaving her job to write full-time that she discovered her passion for storytelling and exploring pockets of history through fiction. She lives in a book-filled house in beautiful rural Derbyshire with her family and a Siamese cat called Antigone. When she’s not writing she enjoys walking in the surrounding Peak District. The Wicked Cometh is Laura Carlin’s first novel.

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Q&A: The Circumstantial Enemy by John R. Bell

When an author contacts you about reviewing their book, it’s disappointing to have to decline the opportunity because of your already huge review pile.  Such is the case when John R. Bell contacted me about his historical fiction novel, The Circumstantial Enemy.    However, just because my review pile is approaching mountainous proportions doesn’t mean I should hide interesting sounding books from followers of my blog.

I’m pleased to say, John agreed to answer some questions about The Circumstantial Enemy, the inspiration for the book and his own very personal writing journey.   If it sparks your interest, you can find the relevant purchase links below.

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The Circumstantial EnemyAbout the Book

When Croatia becomes a Nazi puppet state in 1941, carefree young pilot Tony Babic finds himself forcibly aligned with Hitler’s Luftwaffe. Unbeknownst to Tony, his sweetheart Katarina and best friend Goran have taken the side of the opposing communist partisans. The threesome are soon to discover that love and friendship will not circumvent this war’s ideals.

Downed by the Allies in the Adriatic Sea, Tony survives a harrowing convalescence in deplorable Italian hospitals and North African detention stockades. His next destination is Camp Graham in Illinois, one of four hundred prisoner of war camps on American soil. But with the demise of the Third Reich, repatriation presents a new challenge. What kind of life awaits Tony under communist rule? Will he be persecuted as an enemy of the state for taking the side of Hitler? And then there is Katarina; in letters she confesses her love, but not her deceit… Does her heart still belong to him?

Format: eBook (326 pp.)                   Publisher: Endeavour Press
Published: 12th October 2017          Genre: Historical Fiction

Purchase Links*
Amazon.co.uk  ǀ  Amazon.com
*links provided for convenience, not as part of any affiliate programme

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Interview: John R. Bell, author of The Circumstantial Enemy  

Without giving too much away, can you tell me a bit about The Circumstantial Enemy?

The book is a historical fiction thriller set in Croatia, Russia, and America between 1941 and 1953. It chronicles the trials and capers of a young pilot who is forcibly aligned with Hitler’s Luftwaffe. Unbeknownst to him, his sweetheart and best friend have taken the side of the opposing communist partisans. The threesome soon discover that love and friendship cannot circumvent the ideals of this war. I’d summarize the novel as an energetic journey to freedom through minefields of hatred, betrayal, lust, and revenge. A story about the strength of the human spirit, and the power of friendship, love, and forgiveness.

What is the relevance of the book’s title?

The title represents the protagonist’s predicament. By being in the wrong place at the wrong time, he is caught on the wrong side of the war, becoming the enemy of several in his struggle to survive. There is also a twist to the title; The Circumstantial Enemy happens to be written by a circumstantial author.  I characterize myself that way because I’d never felt a burning desire to write a book.

What changed your mind?

One potent statement from my daughter. Seventeen years ago she said, “If you don’t write it, Grandad’s story will be lost forever.” I’ll never forget the yearning in her eyes. Though in good health, Grandad was 80 years old at the time and he wasn’t about to be the first human being to live forever.   The family had heard his tales over and over again – trials and tribulations of a young WWII Croatian pilot.  I also had to admit that preserving Grandad’s captivating story for his descendants was incredibly compelling. So began my journey as an author.

How did you go about your research for the book?

Thrilled by the opportunity, Grandad agreed to a host of interviews. I was no longer a passive listener. Rather, I treated our exchange as might a journalist – probing for details and questioning events that seemed overstated. The most interesting revelation was his frankness. He soon forgot the recorder was on, revealing more than ever before – some of it both shocking and disturbing. Between the sessions, I checked his facts to ensure the timelines were correct and life in POW camps on US soil were as he described. Simultaneously, I was reading relevant non-fiction books to better understand time, place, and prisoner predicament.

I understand you initially chronicled your Grandad’s story in the form of a biography.  What made you decide to transform it into a work of fiction?

When I began writing, I found myself thinking as might a novelist – the notion that fiction hinges on the characters and what they want. Grandad’s motivation was freedom from repression. A year later, I had completed his biography. With enough copies printed for the family and a few generations to come, I thought I was done as an author. Not so. I’d been infected by that burning desire to write.  I went on to compose business-related blogs about leadership, strategy, and branding. Three years and a hundred blogs later, I thought back to Grandad’s story. There was so much to it. So much that had never been told before. I wondered if I could dramatize that fascinating journey to freedom and redemption into a thrilling novel.

What was the biggest challenge you encountered when writing The Circumstantial Enemy?

A couple of thousand words of fiction later, I realized my naivety; I was in over my head, but that didn’t snuff my inspiration. I didn’t write another word for a year – reading every self-help book I could get my hands on regarding the writing of fiction.  Following the conventional process of research, writing, editing, rewriting (ad nauseam), and seeking an agent and/or publisher, The Circumstantial Enemy was released eight years later.

What are you working on next?

I’m already working on the plot for a prequel and a sequel.

 


John R BellAbout the Author

John Richard Bell was born in Chigwell, UK and now resides in Vancouver, Canada. Before becoming an author of business books and historical fiction, he was the CEO of a Fortune 500 company and a global strategy consultant. A prolific blogger, John’s musings on strategy, leadership and branding have appeared in various journals such as Fortune, Forbes and ceoafterlife.com

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Fred’s Funeral by Sandy Day

When an author contacts you about reviewing their book and the description sounds enticing it’s frustrating to know that it’s going to be several months before you’ll be able to get around to reading and reviewing their book.  Such is the case when Sandy Day contacted me about her book, Fred’s Funeral.    However, although it’s going to be a while until I get to read it, that doesn’t mean I should hide it away from followers of my blog who may not have such a large review pile as I do…

You can find an extract from the book below.  Also, click here to read an interview with Sandy in which she talks about the inspiration for Fred’s Funeral and her approach to writing.

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Fred's FuneralAbout the Book

Fred’s Funeral is a short novel set in 1986. Fred Sadler, a WWI veteran, has just died of old age and his dismayed ghost now discovers that the arrangement of his funeral has fallen to his prudish sister-in-law, Viola. As Viola dominates the remembrance of Fred, he agonizes over his inability to set the record straight. Was Fred Sadler really suffering from shell shock? Why was he locked up most of his life in the Whitby Hospital for the Insane? Could his family not have done more for him? Fred’s memories of his life as a child, his family’s hotel, the War, and the mental hospital, clash with Viola’s version of events as Fred’s family gathers one rainy October night to pay their respects. Readers of literary historical fiction will enjoy Fred’s Funeral.

Format: eBook, paperback (129 pp.)       Publisher:
Published: 28th November 2017              Genre: Literary Fiction

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Extract from Fred’s Funeral by Sandy Day

1928, Ontario.

At his father’s repeated insistence, Fred finds work away from Lakeview House with a highway construction crew. It’s hot. Hotter than Arabia and dustier than a coal shed. He’d much rather be puzzling over a 36-degree gradient with a slide rule and graph paper, but jobs like that are for men with experience, and that, he has to admit he is a little short on. He detests physical labour – it gives his brain too much time to think. And it baffles him that the men around him don’t seem to mind the tedious digging and heaving and plodding in the heat he finds so torturous. They just toil away, humming, and talking, smoking their cigarettes.

Fred’s mind whirs like a radiometer as he works. He recalls the ass he made of himself when he last saw his cousins Pauline and Gertrude. He can never seem to catch Pauline alone. He is tongue-tied around her, and irritated by that nosy old Gertrude, whom he suspects laughs and makes fun of him behind his back. What is the point of it anyway? Pauline is his cousin for Chrissake. Why can’t he just leave her alone? Find another girl he likes?

And he replays the argument he had with Thomas on the weekend about the Chinese family their father hired to work in the hotel laundry. That one old Chinese lady scolded him for parking on the lawn where he always parks the car! And he told her to go fuck herself. Oh, that had been a mistake. Why did Thomas never lose his temper? Why was it always Fred getting into trouble?

His mind frets over the money he owes his father and how it keeps racking up and he never seems able to pay it back. He kicks himself for spending all his pay from the service – it had seemed like such a large sum at the time – he didn’t realize how quickly he’d fritter it away.

There must be something wrong with his nerves. This can’t be normal. He’s afraid he’s done permanent damage and reminds himself again to go pick up a bottle of vitamins at the drug store. That must be why his hands are so tremulous. He wonders if anyone notices. It can’t be something he’s doing to himself, can it? He needs an outlet for his pent up energy, but he could scarcely talk to a woman, which brings him back to Pauline, and the whole circus starts up again.

By the time the foreman blows the whistle, Fred has sweated off more pounds, which is no good whatever because his stomach is in such a knot these days he barely eats anymore. His belt is well past the last notch and hangs down the leg of his work pants. He should just cut it off. But what if he gains the weight back? He doesn’t want to go ruining a perfectly good belt.

Fred’s back is to him so he doesn’t know how or why the damn fool plunges his hand into a pail of boiling tar but Fred hears the man howl and the whole world goes black. The rat-a-tat-tat of guns shatters the air and missiles whistle past Fred’s head. He ducks and instinctively curls into a ball, pulling for his tin hat. The foreman shakes Fred by the shoulder. “Sadler! Sadler! What the hell’s the matter with you?” A sergeant is shouting. Fred can still hear the poor sod wailing. Slowly, and with growing mortification, Fred realizes the bawling is coming from his own throat and that he’s crouching on a dry dusty roadbed somewhere in Southern Ontario.

Fred’s pants are wet. He’s pissed himself.

He watches helplessly as the tar-scalded man is whisked away to the hospital. “You better go home, Sadler.” The foreman shakes his head.

Fred’s parents will be angry. He’s gone and messed up another perfectly good job, disgraced himself. What is wrong with his damn head?


Sandy DayAbout the Author

Sandy Day is the author of the soon to be released, Chatterbox, Poems. She graduated from Glendon College, York University, with a degree in English Literature sometime in the last century. Sandy spends her summers in Jackson’s Point, Ontario on the shore of Lake Simcoe. She winters nearby in Sutton by the Black River. Sandy is a trained facilitator for the Toronto Writers Collective’s creative writing workshops. She is a developmental editor and book coach.

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Blog Tour/Q&A: The Runaway Wife by Rosie Clarke

The Runaway Wife - Blog Tour banner

I’m delighted to be hosting today’s stop on the blog tour for Rosie Clarke’s latest historical novel, The Runaway Wife.  Rosie is pretty much an unstoppable force when it comes to writing, having written around 100 books under different pen names.  Therefore, I’m so pleased she’s taken a temporary break to give us an insight into how she comes up with the ideas for her books and how she lets her characters tell their stories.

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THE RUNAWAY WIFE COVERAbout the Book

Love, marriage, obsession, betrayal and treachery in 1920s London –  a powerful and gritty saga perfect for fans of Kitty Neale, Josephine Cox and Rosie Goodwin.

The hedonism of London in the roaring ’20s is a world away from Annabel Tarleton’s ordinary country existence. Until a chance meeting with the charming Richard Fortescue at a society ball changes her life for ever. Swept off her feet by the dashing Richard, and his renowned fortune, Annabel soon realises that all that glitters isn’t gold. Her bid for freedom has come at a terrible price and she finds herself trapped inside a marriage that behind closed doors is cruel and brutal.

Annabel has no choice but to flee, and will do everything to save herself, and her unborn baby, from destitution. But the very rich and very powerful expect to get what they want – and Richard wants only one thing – Annabel…

Format: ebook (255 pp.)                    Publisher: Aria Fiction
Published: 1st February 2018          Genre: Historical Fiction

Purchase Links*
Amazon.co.uk  ǀ  Kobo ǀ iBooks ǀ Google Play
*links provided for convenience, not as part of any affiliate programme

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Interview with Rosie Clarke, author of The Runaway Wife

Without giving too much away, can you tell me a bit about The Runaway Wife?

Annabel is her mother’s daughter.  Taught to expect to marry well and to be a credit to her name, but that isn’t the reason she allows her mother to bully her.  Underneath her meekness, Annabel is brave and she seeks to protect those she loves: her younger sister and her brother, who is older but has to carry so much of the burden of a struggling estate and his mother’s displeasure.  When she is finally pushed into a marriage with a man who is as cruel as he is rich, a girl like that will break all the rules.

What was the inspiration for the book?

I never know why I write a particular book.  Usually there isn’t any particular reference point that turns a light bulb on and makes me think I’ll write about this or that.  However, things drip feed into your subconscious and perhaps I’d been watching or reading about abusive men.  I wanted a story that I could connect up with Jessie’s Promise without being a sequel to her story and Annabel just suddenly took root.  Once her mother started nagging I knew she had to make an unhappy marriage and Richard immediately strutted centre stage.  He was so damned sure of himself and so careless of others that I knew he had to be really nasty.

The book involves the portrayal of an abusive marriage.  Were there scenes you found difficult to write?

No, I enjoyed writing them.  Once I’m into Annabel’s character I’m feeling her misery and I wanted to hit back so I needed to really feel how she felt.  It was so difficult for her to think of actually walking out of her marriage so she tried other methods first until she understood that he might kill her in one of his rages and then she had to go.

How did you approach the research for the book? Do you enjoy the process of research?

I don’t do hours and hours of research.  I did this once for a period I didn’t know and it came out like a history lesson and I had to rewrite the whole thing.  I always know a bit about what I am writing and then when I need specific details I research that in books, internet and watch TV programmes set in the period if I can.  Watching the period you need is great, though it only gives you the feel and you still have to research dates and details.

The Runaway Wife is set in the 1920s. What do you think is the key to creating an authentic picture of a particular historical period?

First ask your characters to come and once they do you know where they belong.  All my books are character led and then I paint a picture in words of their surroundings.  Annabel is very much a young woman of the thirties, smart, intelligent but still chained by her mother’s old-fashioned ideas and strictures.  Only when she breaks free from her mother’s domination can she be herself. So once you know that you research that period and blend it into the story.

All your books are set in the first half of the 20th century.  What is it that attracts you to this period?

For my sagas I tend to write mostly about the period I know more about but I’ve also written other periods under other names, historical, twenties, all sorts.

You’ve written over one hundred books under a number of different pen names.  Where do you get all your ideas?

It is like a train station.  I have to use the signals to keep some of them waiting while the others are in the station.  New ideas come all the time.  [Cathy: I love that way of describing it!]

Do you have a special place to write or any writing rituals?

I have my study, which has all my printers, computers and books together and is very comfortable.

Which other writers do you admire or enjoy reading?

Oh, so many.  I love Georgette Heyer but I also love Matthew Harffy’s work, which is Saxons fighting in early Britain.  I’m just reading a good Viking trilogy, and I also enjoy Sarah Flint’s thrillers.  I like family sagas, though I try not to read these all the time because I don’t want to cross threads with my own work.

What are you working on next?

At the moment I’ve just started a standalone Christmas book but I am also thinking about the next in the Mulberry Lane series.  Thank you for having me on your blog and I hope your readers enjoy my answers, and try my books.


Clarke_RosieAbout the Author

Rosie Clarke was born in Swindon, but moved to Ely in Cambridgeshire at the age of nine. She started writing in 1976, combining this with helping her husband run his antiques shop. In 2004, Rosie was the well-deserved winner of the RNA Romance Award and the Betty Neels Trophy.

Rosie also writes as Anne Herries and Cathy Sharp.

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Extract: The Circumstantial Enemy by John R. Bell

When an author contacts you about reviewing their book, it’s disappointing to have to decline the opportunity because of your already huge review pile.  Such is the case when John R. Bell contacted me about his historical fiction novel, The Circumstantial Enemy.    However, just because my review pile is approaching mountainous proportions doesn’t mean I should hide interesting sounding books from followers of my blog.

You can read an excerpt from The Circumstantial Enemy further down this post and, if it sparks your interest, you can find the relevant purchase links below.

Follow my blog with Bloglovin


The Circumstantial EnemyAbout the Book

The Circumstantial Enemy chronicles the trials and capers of a young Croat pilot who finds himself forcibly aligned with Hitler’s Luftwaffe. Unbeknownst to the hero, his sweetheart and best friend have taken the side of the opposing communist partisans. The threesome soon discovers that love and friendship cannot circumvent the ideals of this war. Downed in the Adriatic Sea, the protagonist survives a harrowing convalescence in deplorable Italian hospitals and North African detention stockades. His next destination is a POW camp on American soil. With the demise of the Third Reich, repatriation presents his next challenge. What kind of life awaits him under communist rule? Will he be persecuted as an enemy of the state? And then there is his sweetheart; in letters she confesses her love, but not her deceit… Does her heart still belong to him?

Based on a true story, The Circumstantial Enemy is an energetic journey to freedom through minefields of hatred, betrayal, lust and revenge. Rich in incident with interludes of rollicking humour, it’s a story about the strength of the human spirit, and the power of friendship, love and forgiveness.

Format: eBook (326 pp.)                   Publisher: Endeavour Press
Published: 12th October 2017          Genre: Historical Fiction

Purchase Links*
Amazon.co.uk  ǀ  Amazon.com
*links provided for convenience, not as part of any affiliate programme

Find The Circumstantial Enemy on Goodreads


Extract from The Circumstantial Enemy by John R. Bell

For Tony, the past days had been hazy. How long since they pulled him from the sea? And that Red Cross nurse that changed his dressings – fancy thinking she was Katarina. It must have been the morphine. The mind was playing him up. Could the dead man next to him on the floor boards of the rescue boat also have been an apparition?

Four days at Bari, and Tony was transported to the Santa Marta POW hospital in Catania, Sicily, where authorities either hadn’t read the Geneva Convention’s medical code of conduct, chose to ignore it, or simply were overwhelmed by the task of treating so many with so little. Hygiene was appalling, food and fresh gauze scarce, and staff levels low. Add to that a rash of malaria spread by mosquitoes from the marshlands which had left a trail of dead POWs and sick medics. Prisoners changed their own bandages, applied ointments, and scrounged chow. Infection, not wounds became the killer.

The cots in Tony’s ward were so close together that the wider nurses had to sidle between them to treat the patients. Now that it was October, the ward’s four windows remained closed to retain heat. They also retained the stench of excrement, urine, body odour, ammonia, and infection. Tony wasn’t sure which was worse – shivering in the cold, clean air or retching from the foulness he breathed.

The muscles of his swollen left leg had atrophied, and the puffiness encasing the knee had yet to recede. A young doctor, reputedly the best of an exhausted lot, eventually took out the slug, removed the dead tissue, and ordered that the gash be left without sutures or bandage in the hope that bleeding from an exposed wound would cleanse it.

But the bleeding stopped, and the skin surrounding the incision became red and feverish. By morning, red streaks ran beyond the swelling zone, and a yellow discharge collected inside the opening. The smell made Tony gag. A dutiful nurse swabbed the pus with antiseptic, but her efforts were futile – the tissue was rotting.

If the infection wasn’t stamped out, gangrene would take the leg. Tony’s body had rejected the antibiotic sulfa drugs. Penicillin was the answer, but an army short on the miracle drug would not waste it on the enemy. Santa Marta hadn’t seen a new vial in two weeks.

Thankfully, there was no shortage of morphine. A generous shot lulled Tony to sleep, but by three in the morning, chills, fever, and an entourage of dead men disrupted his slumber. The young Messerschmitt pilot he’d killed over Belgrade and the lanky red-haired fisherman from Korcula stood watch at his bedside, and in a crescent behind them, Major Kirilenko and all the others he’d met along the deadly way.

The delirium lasted three days. It was a tingling that startled him awake. The throb in the leg was gone, but what the hell was that itch? The knee felt as if it were hooked to a hundred hairline strands of low-voltage current. He started to shake. Was this how it felt? Christ, no! The bastards had promised not to amputate. He’d given countless warnings, but the staff made it clear he may have to trade the leg for his life. Tony had said he wouldn’t make that trade.

He couldn’t bring himself to raise his head and look. So instead, he studied the map of russet stains in the ceiling, following the contours as if the water lines were the shores of Dalmatian islands on the Adriatic Sea. He traced every cove, isthmus, and peninsula connected by dust-laden cobwebs draping the dangling light bulbs.

Damn itching.

Perspiration from his chest trickled down the furrow of his abdominal muscles to his navel. Let there be two. He squinted down his sopping chest. The bedsheet tented at the end of the cot. Wiggle them. The tent moved where his right foot should be. To see the left, he would have to sit up.

“Jesus Christ! Help! Help me-e-e-e-e-e-e!”

The man in the next cot asked what was wrong.

“Get them off! Get them off me!” Dozens of cream-colored maggots slithered and squirmed in the flesh in and around the uncovered wound. Tony whipped his head to his left and a stream of vomit splattered the floor and the legs of the next cot.

“Those grubs,” said his roommate, “are your best chance of saving that leg. They love rotting flesh – won’t bother with the healthy stuff. Feed them well.”


John R BellAbout the Author

John Richard Bell was born in Chigwell, UK and now resides in Vancouver, Canada. Before becoming an author of business books and historical fiction, he was the CEO of a Fortune 500 company and a global strategy consultant. A prolific blogger, John’s musings on strategy, leadership and branding have appeared in various journals such as Fortune, Forbes and ceoafterlife.com

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