The Witness for the Dead (The Cemeteries of Amalo, 1)

by Katherine Addison

Hardcover, 2021



Call number



Tor Books (2021), 240 pages


Fantasy. Fiction. HTML: "At once intimate and literally operatic, it's everything I love about Katherine Addison's writing, in ways I didn't know to expect. I loved it." â??John Scalzi Katherine Addison returns to the glittering world she created for her beloved novel, The Goblin Emperor, in this stand-alone sequel When the young half-goblin emperor Maia sought to learn who had set the bombs that killed his father and half-brothers, he turned to an obscure resident of his father's Court, a Prelate of Ulis and a Witness for the Dead. Thara Celehar found the truth, though it did him no good to discover it. He lost his place as a retainer of his cousin the former Empress, and made far too many enemies among the many factions vying for power in the new Court. The favor of the Emperor is a dangerous coin. Now Celehar lives in the city of Amalo, far from the Court though not exactly in exile. He has not escaped from politics, but his position gives him the ability to serve the common people of the city, which is his preference. He lives modestly, but his decency and fundamental honesty will not permit him to live quietly. As a Witness for the Dead, he can, sometimes, speak to the recently dead: see the last thing they saw, know the last thought they had, experience the last thing they felt. It is his duty use that ability to resolve disputes, to ascertain the intent of the dead, to find the killers of the murdered. Celehar's skills now lead him out of the quiet and into a morass of treachery, murder, and injustice. No matter his own background with the imperial house, Celehar will stand with the commoners, and possibly find a light in the darkness. Katherine Addison has created a fantastic world for these books â?? wide and deep and true. A Macmillan Audio production from Tor Books… (more)

User reviews

LibraryThing member SandyAMcPherson
I dithered about whether this was a 3½- or 4-star novel ~ partially influenced by my disappointment that this was technically not a genuine sequel, other than it featured the same world (and one character) from The Goblin Emperor. I had wanted more of Maia, the half-goblin emperor. However, this
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story is a well-written murder mystery along with several side episodes requiring the 'Witness' (Thara Celehar, whom we first met in the Imperial court of Edrehasivar VII).

I found the central murder mystery the most interesting, that being the strange death of an opera singer. The other sagas that developed were a missing sister (likely murdered by a serial killer), a forged will, and an eruption of ghouls in the distant town of Tanvero. For my tastes, other than the surprising twist in one of these other cases, this side-action of rather diverse situations detracted from moving the story forward.

I enjoy Addison's writing (except for her penchant in creating complex names and titles). This novel showed potential storylines that were strongly promising, perhaps could have been enlarged as the plot in other books, rather than used here. I do recommend the Witness book, but for myself, I would also like to read more about how Maia fares and see his evolution as the ultimate ruler, how this develops and then, perhaps might achieve a strong dynasty in this kingdom.
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LibraryThing member jjmcgaffey
So of course I had to go on to the next story. This is not, however, a sequel to The Goblin Emperor; a...major minor character in that is the protagonist in Witness. It's also a very, very different story; a murder mystery, or two, or several. Celehar is an interesting person, with a very
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interesting ability - not unknown there, but rare - to speak to the spirits of the dead. Which can be an advantage in investigating a murder...or not. The twists and turns and cross-currents are fascinating, though I find the politics nearly as annoying as Celehar does. Lots of answers, some of them even to the questions that were asked. The writing continues to be fantastic - I was deeply immersed in the story (finished it in one day). There's a sequel coming out in a few months, looking forward to it.
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LibraryThing member Veronica.Sparrow
Katherine Addison is quickly becoming a favorite author of mine. It's gotten to the point where I will buy her books automatically and I can count on one hand the number of books I buy this way. I was first introduced by The Angel of the Crows which I absolultely adored (I'm hoping she will expand
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on that wonderful world especially Crow). I have to admit that I have not read the first book in The Goblin Emperor series but I have it on my TBR list. It was a bit confusing for me at first but as I said, I have not read the first book in the series so it is my own fault. I love the world she has created and the characters.
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LibraryThing member foggidawn
Sometimes the dead have unfinished business. As Witness for the Dead in the city of Amalo, Thara Celehar's job is to listen to them, and find ways to bring them the peace, justice, and rest that they seek. A murdered opera singer, a disputed will, a ravenous ghoul, and a serial killer are some of
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the cases that Celehar faces in the course of his usual (or perhaps we should say unusual) duties.

I loved falling into this world again, though it is only tangentially related to The Goblin Emperor. Celehar is a more withdrawn personality than Maia, and harder to get to know, but I found the slow unfolding of his character rewarding. I had a bit of trouble with the many characters and their long and difficult names, plus the various forms of address, and the equally confusing place names. I would have liked both a map and a character list, but this book contains no back-matter whatsoever. I had also forgotten certain key points about Celehar's backstory that were revealed in the previous book, so I think someone starting with this volume might be confused or find themselves lacking context. However, when I managed to immerse myself in the story, I found the rich details and lovely writing enough to carry me through. Recommended to fans of the first book. I'm looking forward to another book featuring Celehar coming out later this year.
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LibraryThing member Verkruissen
This book is a murder mystery set in a fantasy setting and a Bilbo Baggins type character is what is known as a "Witness for the Dead". He can touch a corpse and gain information on who murdered them or what their last thoughts were depending on the age of the corpse. He seemed to be a detective of
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That being said, the book was good if murder mysteries are your type of story to enjoy. I did like the story and the world building was phenomenal. It just wasn't as exciting as I had hoped.
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LibraryThing member ladycato
I received a an early copy of this book via NetGalley.

The Witness for the Dead is a stand-alone sequel to The Goblin Emperor. I read that book years ago but enjoyed it immensely for its cozy vibe and unique worldbuilding, but the naming conventions in the world left me endlessly addled about who
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was who. Keeping track of names is never my strong point, and add in Russian-style name variations and formalities, and I am a goner.

Witness is a profoundly different book. It largely avoids court politics, and is instead a fantasy book that is a fairly straightforward murder-mystery novel. Only in this situation, Celehar is a detective who can speak with the recently-dead to find out what they wanted to name as heir, or if the committed some crime as they died, or if they were in fact murdered. The concept is fantastically original.

The book eloquently weaves together several of Celehar's ongoing cases. Just as with Goblin Emperor, there is a cozy vibe, a cast that consists of (mostly) helpful goblins and elves, and the same frustrating downside: it was impossible for me to track who was who. I was helped in that Addison is a brilliant writer, and most always provided contextual clues so that within a page or so I would realize, 'oh yeah, that guy again.' Even so, with the way the plots were twined, characters constantly came and went, and I often felt adrift. If not for that problem, this would have been a five-star read for me.
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LibraryThing member Dokfintong
This book follows the story of Thara Celehar (a male, despite the vowel ending of his name) who was introduced in "The Goblin Emperor" in 2014. Othala Celehar is a Witness for the Dead, a cleric who provides religious services for the dead and dying and can communicate with the recently dead. In
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addition, and this is central to this book, when asked, either by relatives of the deceased or by authorities in the case of suspicious deaths, Othala act as advocates, "Witnesses", on behalf of the dead person. When acting as Witnesses they are authorized to investigate the circumstances of the death and often of the person's estate, and then to make a formal statement of findings. Witnesses may not lie in their public or private dealings. Unlike Witnesses in Heinlein's books, Othala do not seem to be highly valued. Certainly they are not well paid.

We follow Othala Celehar in his work, and the novel becomes a series of mystery stories, large and small. At the same time we learn about court and religious rivalries and administrative processes. There isn't any daring do, these investigations are quietly intense.

Through the naming of the dead, Othala also have authority to lay ghouls, revenants that rise when graves are not properly cared for, and Celehar is sent to a rural community to deal with a ghoul who has been terrifying locals for a few months. It's getting stronger as it feeds and the situation is quite urgent. Again, it is an interesting thing that these kinds of services are less generously rewarded than seems normal. I would certainly be glad to pay someone to lay a ghoul in my neighborhood.

The quiet pace and Katherine Addison's relentless world-building pleased me, although I wish that her naming conventions were a bit less challenging and I think her use of Thee, Thou, and Thy is a bit wobbly, at least in this ARC. I get the feeling that there are a bunch more books in the works, books that will explore the sexual and political situations that have been hinted at so far. I look forward to reading them.

I received a review copy of "The Witness for the Dead" by Katherine Addison from TOR through
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LibraryThing member LisCarey
Thara Celehar is the Witness for the Dead that the goblin emperor Maia, in The Goblin Emperor, consulted concerning the deaths of his father and three half-brothers. A minor character in that story, he's the protagonist in this one.

Celehar is no longer at court; he's now in the distant city of
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Amalo, Witness for the Dead for the people of the city. It's a humbler but for him far more satisfying position. In this role, he can often really help ordinary people. He can identify the dead, and often identify the cause of death. In one case brought to him, he's able to identify a deceased man's true heir, when at least one of the two competing wills is clearly forged.

The story revolves around several cases brought to him, which may or may not be related. An opera singer who wasn't liked by her colleagues is found murdered in what seems an unlikely part of town for her--and for all they dislike her, no one seems to have a motive strong enough to end in murder. The case of the forged will, mentioned above, seems simple at first, but has unexpected ramifications. The prince sends him off to deal with a ghoul that's tormenting one of the more remote towns. And the unexplained death of a young woman expecting her first child becomes the first hint that there's a serial killer at work.

Celehar sits in his tiny office every morning, awaiting petitioners asking him for help. Sometimes, he can help by pursuing his calling. Sometimes, he can help by telling the petitioners which office or prelate they should really be consulting. Sometimes, he can't help at all, but he always does his best.

Celehar is socially awkward, bad at picking up social cues, and not that great about abiding by social expectations of dress and adornment, in what is a rather rigid and regulated society. He doesn't make friends easily--except when he does, with people who are misfits in their own ways, or similarly unconcerned with the social judgments of others. Another review suggested that Celehar is a very good depiction of an autistic person in this rule-bound society, and I agree with that.

Like The Goblin Emperor, this is both an interesting blend of high fantasy and steampunk, and a deeply humane story in a genre where that's not necessarily what's expected.

I truly loved this. Highly recommended.

I bought this audiobook.
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LibraryThing member DianaTixierHerald
Outstanding fantasy with an intricately realized world with two dominant races, elven and goblin. Thara Celehar the prelate of Ulis and Witness for the Dead who had found the truth about the bombs that had elevated Edrehasivar VII, to the emperor's throne by killing his father and half-brothers is
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now in the city of Amalo. He finds himself in the middle of a few mysteries including a serial poisoner who marries his victims, a forged will, and a murdered opera singer. Along the way he must hunt and destroy a ghoul that has already started killing the living. Exquisite!
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LibraryThing member Karlstar
I was really looking forward to this book after reading The Goblin Emperor. Unfortunately, this isn't as good. I still enjoyed it and I think it is a good book, but not nearly the same quality. This one is about a character that appears in the first book, but does not pick up the plot. Thara
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Celehar is a cleric of Ulis and a Witness for the Dead - he is able to get small impressions from a recently dead person. Mostly he uses this talent to console the relatives of the deceased but sometimes it opens up mysteries. He solves multiple mysteries in this book, mostly through dogged persistence.
Unfortunately, 'dogged persistence' is not tremendously exciting and there is very little action in this book. It would have really helped it there was a glossary. There are too many ranks, deities, titles and places to make this easy to understand without one.
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LibraryThing member quondame
We are in the same world as The Goblin Emperor, but far from the court. Of course politics is still in play and complicating the investigations of the previously disgraced Witness for the Dead into 3 different deaths. A woman found in the canal introduces him to the personalities and exuberant
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world of opera, a disputed will gets him dispatched to chase a ghoul and looking for the remains of a man's sister who only once sent a message after her marriage to a man unknown to her family initiates a search for a true monster.
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LibraryThing member bell7
Celehar, the Witness for the Dead who helped Maia learn the truth about his father's assassination in The Goblin Emperor, returns with his own story of working as a Witness in Amala. When a young woman washes up in town dead, he very quickly discovers it was murder, and begins his investigation,
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witnessing for her and learning about her life and death.

This story has been billed as a "standalone sequel", and it's true, it really could stand alone. We learn a little more about the world and its religions, and especially how the dead are treated. For all that it's a high fantasy, it also reads a bit like a police procedural as Celehar has a few different "cases" (my word) to witness for. And while it does all that, it's succinct, wrapping up a complete story in about 230 pages. Just a superb story all around.
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LibraryThing member g33kgrrl
A delightful book from Katherine Addison. Set in the same world as The Goblin Emperor but not a traditional sequel, this book shows another character coming to terms with a life that treats them rather harshly. I really enjoyed it, and enjoyed the characters. As a long-term fan of Addison
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(including her writing as Sarah Monette), I now how much she loves mysteries, and it's fun to read one she's written.

I think anyone who enjoyed Goblin Emperor would enjoy The Witness for the Dead.

I received a free eARC from the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.
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LibraryThing member Tikimoof
It reminded me a lot of Corambis. Exploring the world, resolving things, albeit possibly bittersweetly.

More rambling than the Goblin Emperor, but having read Monette's short fiction I was perfectly happy with it!
LibraryThing member alspachc
The obvious comparison is 'The Goblin Emperor', and it's very similar. I think, overall, this is a *better* book, but also *less great* if that makes any sense? I think this may be down to the fact that the world-type of 'people are generally decent after all' just fits better in a semi-noir
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detective story than a court intrigue one? So it's more coherent, less rambling, but also less ambitious and striking.

I'm less likely to recommend this to anyone as 'you should read this, just to see what it is' but would be more certain certain people - those who like fantasy and/or detective novels, or those who liked The Goblin Emperor - would enjoy it.
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LibraryThing member TheDivineOomba
A wonderful addition to the universe of "The Goblin Emperor". Here we have Thalar Celehar, semi-disgraced Prelate and a Witness for the Dead. He serves as a "detective" for those who have passed on, sometimes able to talk to a deceased person, but at the very least, figuring out why they died.
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Having a priest be the one figuring out why someone was murdered is very unusual, but the way Katherine Addison sets up her world, it makes sense. This is a world where the populace is very spiritual, the gods aren't necessarily present, but there is something more than just a belief - eg Ghouls that will arise from the dead and eat people if cemeteries aren't maintained, etc.

The writing is tight, but full of words specific to this world, especially titles. Figuring out who is what can be difficult, however eventually it starts coming together.

I really like the story of Thalar Celehar - he is a character who cares, but isn't a pushover. I hope more stories are coming with him as a leading character.
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LibraryThing member jennybeast
I swear, I’d read Katherine Addison’s grocery lists. This book isn’t really much like the Goblin Emperor, save in its mesmerizing storytelling, and its flawed and endearing narrator, but those things are more than enough to be going on with. It’s a murder mystery of sorts, and an almost
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love story, and an enthralling other world. The only thing I quibble with is that the main character seems very female to me, and the later parts of the book which insist on a male gender came as a shock. I guess I forgot from the first book, or else I felt the same then. As a reader, I just rejected it out of hand and carried on. It matters a bit for reasons of plot, but there you go.

Advanced readers copy provided by Edelweiss
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LibraryThing member macha
this was great. the Witness for the Dead is basically an ecclesiastical private detective in a magical world of elves and goblins, experiencing as many physical dangers from ferociously competing bureaucracies as from the killers he unmasks along the way. it's set in the larger world of the Goblin
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Emperor series, but this first entry in the Cemeteries of Amalo spinoff is quite different, a book of small interlocking detective fantasies centered on the character of the self-effacing Witness. so far there's ghoulies and ghosties; can long-leggedy beasties be far behind? i'm greedy for the next book already.
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LibraryThing member zeborah
I loved Goblin Emperor; this however I was ambivalent about. It's perfectly fine for a murder mystery, I just wasn't really after a murder mystery I guess: the reason I enjoyed Goblin Emperor was the building-a-bridge-within-court-politics, and some linguistic coolness. This didn't build on the
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linguistic coolness, and the religious politics just didn't seem any more important to the book than to Celehar himself. Which left a lot of daily life, and traipsing from clue to clue, and drinking tea and finally solving the mystery by just being in the right place at the right time to have it more or less spelled out for him. ...So maybe it's not really fine as a murder mystery either, at least per normal tropes? Dunno. It was an interesting slice-of-Celehar's-life, and exploration of a part of the world we didn't see in Goblin Emperor, it just wasn't what I was hoping for.
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LibraryThing member ajhackwith
I absolutely loved THE GOBLIN EMPEROR, so when I got the chance to read an advance copy of THE WITNESS FOR THE DEAD, I jumped on it. Addison doesn't disappoint with her empathetic characters and lush worldbuilding. The book follows Thara Celahar, the Witness for the Dead that made an appearance in
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THE GOBLIN EMPEROR, as he attempts to follow his duties and deal with his unwitting fame in the city of Amalo, far from the Emperor's court. Thara is wonderfully empathetic, and quickly reached cinnamon bun status in my heart: must protect at all costs. He's conscientious and clever and so achingly kind, and unaware of any of these heroic traits in himself. Although we follow him investigating a series of murders, deaths, and intrigue, the book never loses its comfort read feel.

The resolution of the book is a little rushed at the end for my tastes and I dearly wished for more resolution with one possible romantic subplot (readers looking for a clear romance in this will be tantalized but not satisfied; Thara has a lot of emotional baggage to sort through), but Addison does an admirable job keeping a wide cast of characters coherent and tying all the plots together. THE WITNESS FOR THE DEAD, like THE GOBLIN EMPEROR, is a complex high fantasy world wrapped in a soft over-sized sweater. It never loses its heart, and I'm so grateful for that.
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LibraryThing member Glennis.LeBlanc
This is set in the same universe as The Goblin Emperor but you don’t need to have read the previous book to enjoy this one since all the story is set away from court and only the main character in this book is in the previous one. Celehar is a Prelate of Ulis and a Witness for the Dead, with this
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gift he can “speak to the dead” to find out what might have killed them. It doesn’t always work if a body is older or cremated but he does very well with his power in helping the citizens of the city and trying to avoid religious politics. There is a body found in a canal and Celehar finds out she has been murdered. She was an opera singer but not much liked by her coworkers. This is a mystery to be solved and it is by the end of the book and along the way you find out more about Celehar and are left wanting more tales of day to day life.

Digital review copy provided by the publisher through Edelweiss
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LibraryThing member MHThaung
This follow-up book to The Goblin Emperor focusses on the further deeds and travails of Thara Celehar, who has the spiritual power of “reading” the recently deceased. Celehar is a sympathetic character, and narrates the whole story in first person (past tense) viewpoint.

His new role is as a
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kind of investigator, and various puzzles are presented to him. Some appear more minor than others, although all are significant to the petitioners who bring them. Although I (again) had issues keeping up with all the character names, I did enjoy finding out how everything fitted together.

The pace is leisurely and gentle, with many visits to tea-houses. In line with the court intrigue/fantasy of manners subgenre, perils tend to be social rather than physical, although there is a bit of the latter. Although Celehar arrives in his new role feeling isolated, we see him make friends along the way, which I suspect is the major point.
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LibraryThing member wyvernfriend
While this is a murder mystery it's such a gentle story of a person who can see the dead and sometimes channel them who feels that he has to investigate a murder while surviving the city he lives in. There is a lot of tea and forming friendships and finding family along the way and I really did
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enjoy the story; enough that I bought a hardback copy to add to my collection and I enthuse about it to people.
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LibraryThing member decaturmamaof2
I love the fully built universe, and the inner dialogue in this book. All the many names and vocabulary made it quite confusing, and challenging to keep the characters straight. A glossary would have been helpful.
LibraryThing member cmc
A really good read. Picks up after the events of The Goblin Emperor with the further adventures of Thara Celehar, the Witness for the Dead sent by our goblin emperor to investigate the cause of the previous emperor’s death.

Here, in the course of his duties, he finds himself tracking down the
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killer of a beautiful opera singer, stumbling on to the trail of a serial killer, handling a risen ghoul, and giving us a nice tour through the city and its teahouses. Along the way there’s a bit of jurisdictional jockeying because of his unique position, and maybe a hint at a friendship, or more, in the future.

I’m not sure why the author’s had a bit of a hard time (e.g., switching to Katherine Addison to give her a fresh start), as I’ve really enjoyed everything I’ve read from her. I first encountered her work in the (awesome) Shadow Unit stories, and _Witness_ is a nice blend of slice-of-life fantasy and mystery that goes down smooth and leaves a pleasant tingle in your mind.
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Mythopoeic Awards (Finalist — Adult Literature — 2022)


Original language


Original publication date


Physical description

240 p.; 8.5 inches


0765387425 / 9780765387424
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