Horror World Book Reviews
January, 2008


DEADFALL by Robert Liparulo
Review by Mark Justice
Four old friends decide to take a hunting trip deep inside the Canadian Wilderness, in a spot so remote they have to be taken in by helicopter. Once there, the four men expect a relaxing excursion away from the stresses of their everyday lives.

Boy, are they wrong.

The four soon find themselves on the run from a group of brilliant gamers wielding a deadly weapon, something no one has ever seen before, something with devastating powers right out of a science fiction movie.

(While I don’t want to give away the nature of the weapon, I do suggest you picture Dr. Evil making air-quotes with his fingers and saying. “Lasers.”)

The gamers have gained access to deadly classified technology and are using it to research a new game. Unfortunately, the research includes destroying a small town and its population.

The four hunters engage in a desperate race to save the townspeople from the weapon and to pit their own skills against the impressive intellect and strategy of the gamers.

Liparulo does here what he does best: he uses by an impressive ability to build suspense to force you to turn the pages. Unlike many thriller writers, Liparulo creates characters with enough depth to make the reader care about them. There are no interchangeable, cardboard stereotypes here. Even the bad guys are fully fleshed-out.

The action scenes are superb, as you would expect from reading his earlier Germ. Also, his doomsday weapon is described quite convincingly. Disturbingly so, in fact.

From Deadfall’s gruesome opening scene to the surprise-filled, satisfying finale, Robert Liparulo proves that he’s the writer to carry the thriller genre to new heights in years to come.

Thomas Nelson


Review by Angela Bennett

Where has John Little been? He seems to have popped out of the woodwork a fully formed, extremely talented author. I'd never heard of him before receiving Placeholders to review. This is a tough story to pigeonhole (and that's a good thing), it's part horror, part science fiction, part history lesson and part love story. The writing is crisp, economical and engaging. As I finished the story, I wondered how I could review it without giving away the story.

A quick and dirty overview of Placeholders: A Placeholder is someone who is sent in to replace a dying person so that they don't have to suffer the agony of death. Richard is a Placeholder who's died hundreds of deaths, but it's more than that, he's dying for a reason. Once he figures that out, he can move on to his real purpose, one that has far reaching implications and pales beside what he's already endured.

This book sold out from Necessary Evil Press upon publication so if you want to get your hands on it, you'll have to look at the secondary market. I suggest tracking this one down - it's worth the hunt as this is a story that will stay will you long after you turn the last page.

Necessary Evil Press



EXOTIC GOTHIC: Forbidden Tales from Our Gothic World Edited by Danel Olson
Review by Norm Rubenstein

Ash Tree Press recently released this new Anthology, which is available both in a trade softcover edition and a limited edition hardcover, both of which are quite affordable. The book collects twenty-three stories from a diverse contingent of twenty-three different authors, including such well known names as Thomas Tessier, Lucy Taylor, Terry Dowling, Peter Crowther, Neil Gaiman, William F. Nolan, Steve Rasnic Tem, Brian Hodge, Nancy Collins, Rick Hautala (with Mark Steensland), Thomas Ligotti, and Joyce Carol Oates. The caliber of these names alone should give a potential reader some initial insight into the quality of the Anthology.

As Editor Danel Olson discusses in his interesting Preface, this particular Anthology raises the question as to “How does the contemporary global Gothic enlarge, transcend, scramble, subvert, or mock the genre?” (Exotic Gothic). To this end, Olson has subdivided the Anthology into Sections for Africa, Asia, Australia, Europe, Latin America, and North America. Each Section then has various stories that are set within or relate to the particular geographic area. The Anthology, which encompasses 299 pages of small, but still quite readable text, is admirably comprehensive. The book does exactly what it sets out to do, and provides a wealth of contemporary stories from around the world, either straightforwardly in the Gothic milieu, or which utilize such as a point of origin.

As befits this Anthology, which takes itself seriously without being in the least “pompous,” the reader will not find any stories contained within its pages that are of substandard quality, or which one would feel don’t belong. Indeed, the book, through its selected stories, provides an excellent, informative overview of the genre, both in terms of where it has been, and where it is now going. The stories were also selected with care to provide the reader with a full range of emotions – from the atmospheric yet very funny humor of one submission, through the uncertainty and chills of many of the included tales, to a terrifying few that will leave some readers afraid to turn off the lights for a week after finishing the story.

This is a well-balanced, well thought out and wonderfully rounded anthology that will immerse readers in the best of contemporary Gothic genre from around the world, and which includes good stories from a goodly amount of exceptional authors, to successfully accomplish its goals. For those potential readers who are not already familiar with this particular sub-genre, the book is an excellent introduction, that will allow them to sample many of the different aspects of the genre, without the book seeming at all repetitive or boring. For those readers who are already familiar with Gothic literature and wanted to learn more about both modern trends and the new and differing ways in which the genre is being taken by top contemporary authors in different parts of the world, the book, again, serves the purpose ably and admirably. Readers of Exotic Gothic will certainly feel their money and time were well spent in purchasing and reading the book, and will come away pleased that they’ve done so. Exotic Gothic is highly recommended.

Ash Tree Press


SHUTTERBUG by Daniel I. Russell
Review by Cesar Puch

Daniel Russell’s Shutterbug starts with Georgina Stevenson taking her unwilling teenage daughter Jess to a photo studio and later learning that while Georgina waited for the session to be over, Jess had been assaulted and raped by the owner Harry Beacon, who threatened to kill her if she ever said a word. Georgina realizes that Beacon has been doing this to most of her young female clients and so decides to take matters into her own hands. In a Psycho-esque twist, the lead is then murdered on Chapter 4, and the story then follows daughter Jess several years later as she’s ready to graduate from college. As she celebrates with her father and new boyfriend Dean, things suddenly go sour when Jess learns that the man who raped her and killed her mother has been transferred to a minimum security facility. This is followed by several photographs that start showing up, each one more disturbing than the previous one. Is Harry Beacon back for vengeance? And will Jess’ fate be the same as her mother’s?

Although having some suspenseful scenes and being quite a fast read (the book is less than 100 pages long), Shutterbug suffer from the same problems present in many slasher movies of the 90s (I Still Know what You Did Last Summer comes to mind). Its biggest flaw is forcing the events in the story in ways that scream implausibility, only to move the plot forward and towards the intended resolution. The whole situation with Harry Beacon raping every one of his clients behind closed doors while their mothers stand in line in the reception feels really far-fetched, the same way as Jess’ father who is presented as bound to a wheelchair, with serious memory problems, then later takes his pills and becomes Jess’ “rock” helping her through the aftermath of her mother’s murder and then later on stops taking his pills and immediately is unable to take care of himself. Even though this could be a real-life effect of medication, it just feels too convenient for the plot, and thus, barely convincing to the reader. But perhaps the biggest example of how the events are forced onwards happens right after Georgina is killed, with the following chapter finding Harry Beacon tried and condemned for the murder. How he got caught is anyone’s guess since the author never tells.

There is some interesting writing in Shutterbug-- in particular a dream sequence in which Jess and other girls stand in line naked and are sucked into a photo studio one by one. However as a whole the story is clichéd. Russell tries to create interesting psychologically tense moments with Jess and her phobia of being photographed but the story inevitably falls flat. The ending is predictable and extremely far-fetched when you stop to think about it for two seconds. In addition, lines such as “Get away! He’s crazy and he has a camera!” just force you out of the suspense mood.

Wild Child Publishing


SAVAGE by Richard Laymon
Review by David Simms

Anyone who has ever read a Laymon novel knows once the cover opens, a world of fun and depravity awaits. While Savage has the typical perversion and gore and wildly fun characters readers have come to know and love, Laymon digs much deeper here. Historical fiction? Deep romance? Before you cry foul, blood soon follows.

The story follows young Trevor Bentley, who happens to find himself in the bedroom of a woman after running through the slums of 19 th century London. Minutes later, he watches as Jack the Ripper mutilates her inches from where the teen hides. The next thing we know, both are aboard a yacht headed for America. After hooking up with a beautiful woman and escaping from the clutches of Jack, they head west to find and kill him.

Mayhem and misadventure follow in typical Laymon style but this time, it’s more Indiana Jones than kinky crime tales. Why? The characters in the story are very deep here. They care – more than just about sex, surviving, and killing. Even the ancillary characters are well drawn, particularly the traveling salesman and train robbers.

But learning about the Old West? The imagined history of Jack the Ripper?

Laymon usually builds characters that we as readers love to live vicariously through, mostly because they’re so three dimensional and get to do things that many of us would love to, if we could get away with it! However, this time, Trevor, while still getting his share of the action (both sex and literal), feels for the women, has a strong moral compass, and has a purpose.

Reading this felt like riding on one of the best rollercoasters, haunted houses, and racecars all in one. That can only be accomplished by great writing. Simple as it is, it fades into the background, letting the reading hold on and enjoy the climbs, drops, and loops.

In my opinion, this could be the best of his books and if strongly marketed, could very well be a bestselling thriller. Not bad for a reissue!


Review by Cesar Puch

In his introduction to this anthology, author Mark Morris narrates his childhood experience with horror, specifically the first time he cracked open one of the old Pan Books of Horror Stories. Fans of the old collection that come across The First Humdrumming Book of Horror Stories will no doubt be taken back to similar days with just a glance at the cover. An homage to the classic collection, the First Humdrumming Book brings together eleven of Humdrumming’s regular authors who take us down a number of paths, some cryptic, some brutal, others delightfully absurd, but all of them into the darkness.

The collection starts and ends with quick madness explorations by James Cooper. His “And Then There Was Blood” is disturbing enough by the time you read the last line, at which point it simply becomes too much to witness. Between the bookends we find Gary McMahon’s “Hum Drum”, a new take on the psychic detective story. “Pale Light in the Jungle” by Simon Strantzas begins ordinarily enough with a young man moving into his new place, but takes a frightful turn as the dark closes in. In “The Door”, Guy Adams presents a desperate man who has to deal with the sudden appearance of an extra door in his apartment. His initial need to know what’s behind is perfectly balanced by his subsequent dread of what lives on the other side. And then there’s the perfect “One’s a Crowd” where Rhys Hughes follows his apathetic protagonist while taking paranoia to the extreme and then beyond.

A nice collection of stories in the tradition of the classic anthologies from yesteryear. Very recommended.
White Noise Books


Review by Norm Rubenstein

As much as I like novels and novellas, I’ll admit that I find a well-done short story to be perhaps the most satisfying read. Writing the short story is a truly specialized craft and sophisticated art. An author doesn’t have the luxury of being able to establish either story/plot or define characters in a leisurely fashion as one does with the greater page counts available in either a novel or novella. A good short story must grab the reader within a few short sentences, rather than pages (or even Chapters). Then, the author has only a very limited amount of space in which to develop his/her characters and plotline, and leave a lasting impression. While it isn’t terribly hard to place words upon paper (or screen) and come up with the appearance of a short story, a good or great short story, one that leaves a lasting impact upon the reader long after the story has been initially read and/or leads one to re-read it, that is a most difficult accomplishment indeed.

Apex Publications, has just released its latest new title, the themed Anthology Gratia Placenti: The 2007 Apex Publications Featured Writer Anthology ably edited by Jason Sizemore and Gill Ainsworth. The title is available in either a very reasonably priced Trade Softcover edition, as well as an also affordable Hardcover edition. This title is a follow-up to Apex’s previously successful anthology, Aegri Somnia, which was a 2006 Bram Stoker award nominee for Best Anthology.

Gratia Placenti, which translated from the Latin, means “For The Sake of Pleasing,” includes thirteen short stories based around this very general theme from a selection of thirteen very gifted authors, and further includes a nicely done Introduction by Editor Jason Sizemore, and striking cover art from artist Paul Bielaczye. The book utilizes a very nice font that is easy on the eyes.

Some short story anthologies are rather “mixed bags” with a combination of short stories of varying degrees of worth. However and happily, this is certainly not the case with Gratia Placenti. Each and every short story contained in Gratia Placenti is, at the least, quite good, with many being truly memorable. Taken together, it is an exceedingly gratifying and entertaining anthology, and deserves, at the very least, another Stoker nomination for best anthology for 2007, if not a win this time around.

Very briefly, the anthology starts with a very effective dark and terrifying note with Geoffrey Girard’s Translatio. Athena Workman’s Follow The Canary is a memorable and effective story that combines genres, introduces an interesting world and characters, including the “Canaries” themselves, and with real “marriage from Hell” that should help married readers to realize just how comparatively good are their own marriages, whatever their flaws. Debbie Kuhn’s Crasher is a scary yet empathetic look at the horrors of war and it’s effect upon regular men, along with the sometimes-redemptive power of the beauty of song. David Niall Wilson’s Some Glue Never Dries, certain to be an award’s consideration story, is a very haunting, powerful, beautifully and lyrically written examination of child abuse, madness, and pain. It is amazing what Wilson is able to convey and accomplish in less than ten pages, and is a tale that will both disturb and engross the reader. Shane Jiraiya Cummings’ The Cutting Room is a very different, graphic and entertaining take upon an autopsy, not necessarily the easiest of combinations to pull off. Teri A. Jacobs’ Bright Red Razors is yet another graphic, powerful take upon madness and what demons may underlie such manifestations in a young woman. Adrienne Jones’ Party Makers, a tale of sibling rivalry gone to extremes, demons, as well as the problems of being a successful, but socially backwards Nerd, makes for good fun and is certainly entertaining. The same attributes are found in J A Konrath’s Them’s Good Eats. This engaging tale of a couple of good old boys who have a close encounter of the fourth kind a/k/a Alien Abduction, is a nice combination of laughs and terror. James F. Reilly’s Something Wet is a riveting mixture of futuristic thriller, porn, and horror. Bev Vincent’s Popup Killer is another memorable and extremely well done tale that mixes classic time paradox along with equally classic “dealing with the Devil” based horror to impressive effect. This run of truly exceptional short stories is continued with R. Thomas Riley’s Only Spirits Cry, another lyrical and well written story, part childhood recollection and part adult going-home-again to face his dying mother. But the story, its setting, characters, underlying mythos, and message are all extremely and uniquely well done. All these superlatives are equally applicable to the book’s next story, Neil Ayres’ The Listening. This story set in Ireland, concerning a man’s recollections of his pregnant wife’s mysterious disappearance six years previously, is outstanding in all respects and will long linger with the reader. It is as with a select few of the other stories collected within this anthology, certainly of a caliber to be considered for appropriate awards nomination. The final story in the book, Mary Robinette Kowal’s Tomorrow And Tomorrow is yet another strong tale, concerning both a mother’s love and a husband’s hate. It is also a timely look at the idea of class systems and those who come from elsewhere; where, though being well educated and even well respected in their places or countries of origin, are forced to take menial jobs and face constant ridicule to survive in their new environment.

This bears repeating – Gratia Placenti is an exceptional anthology filled with good-to-great short stories by some highly gifted authors. It is an award caliber book, filled with many very entertaining good short stories, more than a few of which are certainly of award caliber themselves. Certainly one of 2007’s best anthology titles, it receives my highest recommendation.

Apex Publications


Review by David Simms

Some of the best apocalyptic horror fiction ideas have been set forth by Simon Clark (Nailed By The Heart, Stranger, Blood Crazy ) and after a couple of straight-ahead old style scarefests, he returns to the well that has produced those great concepts.

Mason tells his tale of the Echomen, beings who morph into exact clones of him just by being in close proximity. He hooks up with a band of misfits who have seceded from society after their own encounters with these beings, who may or may not be human.

Clark’s writing is pointed, unique, and definitely effective. Still, what makes his stories great are his vision of the darkest ends to mankind. While not as cool as I Am Legend (the book, NOT the movie), this ranks as one of the more interesting novels of the year. Now, if they can transform it into a film that didn’t completely blow…


Review by JG Faherty

{Instant Review: If Kevin Smith made a horror movie with Jay and Silent Bob as the lead characters, it might end up something like John Dies at the End.}

It’s tough to decide where to begin when talking about John Dies at the End, because the book itself has trouble deciding where to begin. This isn’t a bad thing; it’s just makes it hard to review.

John Dies at the End is essentially a story about two slackers who stumble upon a new drug - Soy Sauce - from another dimension. After taking it, they can see and experience things the rest of the world can’t. Some of these things are horrifying - creatures made of canned meat, interdimensional travelers with bad designs on our world, ghosts, and more. At other times, the ‘sauce,’ as they call it, gives them ‘retarded powers,’ such as knowing what a person dreamed last night, reliving the life and death of a cooked chicken, or being able to figure out complicated but useless mathematical solutions.

However, the story doesn’t flow in linear fashion. It begins in the middle, with a scene that ultimately means nothing to the overall story but sets the farcical tone of the book. Then it shifts forward in time, to where the main character (David Wong - it’s not the author’s real name) is telling a reporter the story of how they discovered the ‘sauce’ and what happened afterwards. We get the story in flashback format, but even then it skips around, as the narrator (Wong) is also strung out, confused, and only a few steps above Spiccoli on the evolutionary scale. However, that makes him a genius compared to his partner in crime, John, who is remarkably wacked out even before they discover the alien drug.

Much of the narration involves David’s repeated efforts to translate John-speak into something normal humans can understand. Not that John doesn’t speak like everyone else; it’s just that he’s a pathological liar who also happens to be high, drunk, confused or all three most of the time. When John speaks of single-handedly attacking a police barricade and narrowly avoiding being shot to death, David understands this to mean John asked the policeman what was going on and then meekly left the scene when told to.

As the story unfolds, we discover that the sauce is more than just a drug that has given David and John the unwanted ability to see and fight supernatural creatures; it’s also capable of opening doorways to another dimension, where an alien baddass - Korrok - is mounting an invasion of Earth for his own nefarious purposes.

In the course of trying to stop Korrok, John dies and then returns from the dead, a lost dog suddenly acquires the ability to channel John’s spirit (and also drive a car), the heroes win a bucketload of money in Las Vegas, several people die, monsters are defeated by blasting them with bad rock music, and David is kidnapped several times by Korrok’s demons. The two goofballs also travel between dimensions on more than one occasion, and change the past, so that by the end of the book everything that has happened hasn’t necessarily actually happened.

Confused yet? Don’t be. Because it doesn’t matter. The joy of reading John Dies at the End isn’t the actual story (which isn’t all that scary), but the comic dialog and hysterical action scenes that follow each other like an endless parade of clowns exiting a Volkswagen. David Wong (the author) produces page after page of droll, satirical humor that keeps the reader entertained long after realizing the book might never have a satisfying ending. (Although it does. I’m just not giving it away.)

If you enjoy Kevin Smith’s movies (Clerks, Jay & Silent Bob, Dogma), or the writings of Alan Dean Foster, you’ll definitely enjoy John Dies at the End. You won’t erupt in laughter, and you won’t be afraid to sleep with the lights off, but you’ll end up somewhere in the middle, glad you bought the book and better for reading it.
Permuted Press


IN AND DOWN By Brett Alexander Savory
Review By William A. Veselik

Author Brett Alexander Savory has characterized his first full-length novel, In and Down, as weird…and who am I to dispute the author’s own honest description of his work?

It is weird. But weird in a good way.

In and Down tells the tale of young Michael and Stephen, brothers who are searching for their mother, long absent from their lives. Michael and Stephen have a love-hate relationship with one another, typical enough for brothers, but theirs has an eerie, almost surreal, aspect that makes it unique in the annals of brotherhood. Add to the mix the emotionally-distant and neglectful father who is raising the boys, and you have a strong impetus for Michael and Stephen to begin seeking the maternal presence that has made them both somewhat sociopathic. The discovery of a cryptic letter written by their mother leads Michael into the world of the Freekshow, a dream-world carnival where he discovers the dark and disturbing underbelly of his fixation with finding his lost mother.

In and Down is not your typical horror novel, though. If you pick up the book expecting blood and gore, you’ll be sadly disappointed, but if you enjoy reading about how humans themselves can become the monsters in our—and their own—lives, you’ll find the book very satisfying. Savory possesses the ability to describe the indescribably surreal world of dreams (if dreams they truly are) in such a way that the reader can easily form a mental picture of a child’s nightmare world. Told in present tense, the novel is well-paced even though it is by no means a roller-coaster ride of action.

There are surprises along the way, with carefully placed clues woven into the story and the subtext of the novel. I found these devices forcing me to constantly second-guess myself about the true nature of the tale and its characters. I was usually wrong, by the way. The end, while tragically poignant, was equally satisfying.

In and Down is a thinking man’s horror novel and while the horror genre tends to have fewer female readers than male, I believe it will prove itself a thinking woman’s horror novel, as well. Author Savory doesn’t beat you over the head with his writing style or his gift of expression. He lets you embrace his tale willingly, expanding its scope as the reach of your arms increases.

Weird or not, In and Down is one of those horror novels that truly belongs in the literature section of your local bookstore.
Brindle & Glass


Review by David Simms

Anytime a new magazine launches into the world of dark fiction, it’s cause to celebrate. Darkened Horizons is presented in book/digest form, which looks great. It features a ton of unknown authors with quirky stories that evoke many emotions, even laughter (I’ll let you figure out which story that one might be).

I can only hope that other new publications can be as bold and enterprising as Darkened Horizons. In a world where horror mags are dropping like dead birds from a poisoned sky, events such as this should be heralded.

Darkened Horizons


MIDNIGHT IN NEW ENGLAND by Scott Thomas Down East Books
Review by Steve Middaugh

Scott Thomas has written three books: "Cobwebs and Whispers", "Shadows Of Flesh", and "Westermead". His latest, "Midnight In New England" is a short story collection. It is comparable to Edgar Allen Poe and H.P. Lovecraft. Most of the stories are set in the eighteen and nineteenth century, as well as the turn of the twentieth century. These are surprisingly well written. The characters are definitely three dimensional.  Apart from the atmospherics and ghostly weirdness, the pacing is impeccable. 

Let's break this collection down to highlights of the stories that are definitely excellent: "Herrick's Inn" is the place where daddy's little girl isn’t all sweet and cuddily and innocent during lover's trysts. There's hell to pay, when something dark and hungry comes crawling through the window of her bedroom. "Laben Blois's Death" takes a whole different meaning to the phrase, "Thou shalt not covet." "The Collector of the Mill", wouldn't you get curious about what's in that rundown mill, especially when some animals are missing one of their torsos? Sure you do. You'd want to know why. Just ask the narrator in this Lovecraftian tale. "Marcy Waters" is a tale of a strange lover's tryst and its aftermath.  It sucks when a doctor, against his better judgment, comforts a widow who wants him for herself. Things gets so damned complicated in "Whispers." What would you do in a case of a small town of houses filled with "A Million Dying Leaves?" In "The Puppet and The Train," a veterinarian stalks a brown man who makes animals talk. When you read this one, you'll understand why he's got a problem. "Sharp Medicine" is a terrifying tale that starts with a dying man emerging from the swamp with a bag full of arrowheads.

There are some stories that are spectral and psychological as "The Dead In Midwinter" reminiscent of the eerie classics of Poe. One or three that are a touch Lovecraftian in addition to the above mentioned tales. One or two others are definitely weird Twilight Zoneish tales with a little bit of humor like "The Second Parsonage." The stories are well written, snappily paced, with three dimensional characters that kept the reader's interest from start to finish. Strongly recommended.

Down East Books


LIVING SHADOWS by John Shirley
Review by Steve Middaugh

John Shirley is a damn good writer. He brought us novels like Demons, Crawlers, Angel With Television Eyes, Wetbones, In Darkness Waiting, as well as the cyberpunk series A Song Called Youth. He could write with the best of any genre he wished, whether it's cyberpunk, dark fantasy, weird fiction, or urban noir. He writes tales that unsettle, provoke, and even outrage.

Living Shadows is a mixed bag of short stories in several of the genres mentioned above. Most of them are reprints, coming from other collections like Black Butterflies, Heatseaker, Really Really Really Really Weird Stories, and other magazines.   Others are new in this collection.  

In The Road, in this tale, the horror is not what people do to themselves or to each other. The horror is indifference of the populace, a degenerate complacency.  The Gunshot is what happens to producer of violent movies when someone pulls out a gun and the unexpected results. Seven Knives is where movie deals take a nasty turn for the worst when the man sets himself inside the Iron Maiden.  Blind Eye (with Edgar Allen Poe) is a strange take on Poe's unfinished story of a lighthouse. Buried In the Sky is a Lovecraftian tale of a girl matching wits with Yog Sothoth in a futuristic high rise apartment complex. Isolation Point, California is a dark tale set in the future where man and woman who yearned to touch, hold, embrace, know full well they'll kill each other without meaning to once they are within nineteen steps and the Aggression Factor virus kicks in.

Like I said, John Shirley is a damn terrific writer.  His prose is razor sharp and as dark as the urban landscape.  His characters are three dimensional, not terribly likable, and are often insecure and uncertain.  Anybody not familiar with John Shirley should check this one out.

Prime Books

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