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2018 Independent Publisher Book Awards, Gold Medal for Suspense/Thriller
HARD DOG TO KILL: Hardened mercenaries Stan Mullens and Frank Giordano are fighting their way across the Congo jungle, having been sent to track down and kill a charismatic diamond miner, Tonde Chiora. But their victim is full of dangerous surprises, and the jungle offers more opportunities to die than to kill. Struggling to survive in the dark heart of the Congo, Stan begins to question his old loyalties – and his tenuous belief that he is still one of the good guys.
From The Book:
I passed a night of fitful sleep, and awoke in the morning with a snake coiled on my heart, a huge thing that must have weighed fifteen pounds, its fat body intricately patterned with triangles and rectangles of buff, garnet, and brown.
For a long moment I believed I was still in the clutches of a bad dream, but it was horrifyingly real. When I stirred, the snake lifted its powerful head to regard me, and I saw two spikes pointing up from the tip of its snout like tiny rhinoceros horns. Gaboon viper, I thought, remembering my obsessive research into African serpents. It was the last coherent thought I had for some time.
I would be lying if I told you my reaction was in any way manful. I flailed and shrieked, flapping my arms and tangling myself in the mosquito net. The startled snake shot out and bit my cheek.
I arched my back as the fangs sank into my face, and we tumbled out of the hammock, the hot venom pumping into my bloodstream. I fell on top of the beast, stunning it. The commotion roused Frank, who leapt up and without hesitation pushed me away and hacked the serpent into several writhing segments with his giant knife.
Frank tossed the chunks of snake away from me and rolled me onto my side. He grabbed the antivenin in his kit, drove the needle into my neck, and slammed an EpiPen into my leg. Epinephrine sent my already-thrumming heart slamming wildly in my chest as Frank pushed several pills into my mouth.
“Whaddzzit?” I asked, my tongue and lips huge and unwieldy, my teeth chattering.
“Swallow while you can, dumbfuck!”
I did so with some difficulty, and he dumped water into my mouth.
Tossing the bottle aside, he drove his huge knife – still dripping with snake gore – into my swelling cheek, making a rough cross below my right eye. I had little time to regret the addition of another scar, because Frank was already sucking blood from my cheek. I wanted to tell him sucking venom only worked in movies, but my mouth no longer worked.
From The Author:
I think of Hard Dog to Kill as a character study masquerading as a testosterone-soaked adventure. It’s also an exploration of one of the world’s most intense environments, in a part of the world I’ve traveled to and worked in for almost three decades. There aren’t many regions that match sub-Saharan Africa in terms of beauty, political upheaval and intricately woven cultural connections. It’s that complexity that drew me to write about the Democratic Republic of the Congo and its heady combination of natural riches and human struggle. Given the way most outsiders have pillaged the Congo – often under the pretense of doing good – it was important to me that my protagonist came there not just as an outsider, but as an invader. Stan Mullens does just that, and learns some brutal lessons about the Congo, and himself, along the way.
“This darkly comic debut has more plot twists and traps than the Congo River, and memorable characters who lingered in my mind for weeks. It’s smart, relentless, violent, and curiously introspective.” – Beth Jusino
“Craig Holt’s writing has both rich detail and clarity of thought. He challenges genre definitions and illuminates human character while taking the reader on an unexpected journey.” – Sara Elaine
“Holt is a writer who brings you to the heart of darkness and makes you laugh through the tears. Hard Dog to Kill is a gritty, insightful novel about a man desperately trying to calibrate his broken moral compass while fighting his way through the shadows of the modern-day Congo.” – Anne Belen