27 October 2018

Review: A SPARK OF LIGHT, Jodi Picoult

  • this edition published 2018 Allen & Unwin Australia
  • ISBN 978-1-76011-051-2
  • 369 pages
  • author website: www.jodipicoult.com 
Synopsis (author website)

 The warm fall day starts like any other at the Center—a women’s reproductive health services clinic —its staff offering care to anyone who passes through its doors. Then, in late morning, a desperate and distraught gunman bursts in and opens fire, taking all inside hostage.

After rushing to the scene, Hugh McElroy, a police hostage negotiator, sets up a perimeter and begins making a plan to communicate with the gunman. As his phone vibrates with incoming text messages he glances at it and, to his horror, finds out that his fifteen-year-old daughter, Wren, is inside the clinic.

But Wren is not alone. She will share the next and tensest few hours of her young life with a cast of unforgettable characters: A nurse who calms her own panic in order save the life of a wounded woman. A doctor who does his work not in spite of his faith but because of it, and who will find that faith tested as never before. A pro-life protester disguised as a patient, who now stands in the cross hairs of the same rage she herself has felt. A young woman who has come to terminate her pregnancy. And the disturbed individual himself, vowing to be heard.

Told in a daring and enthralling narrative structure that counts backward through the hours of the standoff, this is a story that traces its way back to what brought each of these very different individuals to the same place on this fateful day.

My Take

Probably not really a crime fiction title, or at the very boundaries of the genre.

This is so obviously a book with a message. It comes through the narration and the characters as well as in the "Author's Note", the bibliography, and the blurb.
one of the most fearless writers of our time—tackles a complicated issue in this gripping and nuanced novel. How do we balance the rights of pregnant women with the rights of the unborn they carry? What does it mean to be a good parent? A Spark of Light will inspire debate, conversation . . . and, hopefully, understanding.

I found the narrative structure a challenge and was tempted at times to read the chapters in reverse order so that I could get the events in the right order. In the long run I continued to read in the order as published. The structure did give the author considerable flexibility in the presentation of background detail on every character that we met.

There were a couple of twists to the story that I was not expecting and they were cleverly done. A worthwhile read.

During the 10 year life of this blog I have not reviewed a novel by this author even though she has written a massive number of books - that is why I have used the "new to me" label.

My rating: 4.5

About the author

Jodi Picoult, 52 , is the bestselling author of twenty-four novels: Songs of the Humpback Whale (1992), Harvesting the Heart (1994), Picture Perfect (1995), Mercy (1996), The Pact (1998), Keeping Faith (1999), Plain Truth (2000), Salem Falls (2001), Perfect Match (2002), Second Glance (2003), My Sister's Keeper (2004), Vanishing Acts (2005), The Tenth Circle (2006), Nineteen Minutes (2007), Change of Heart (2008), Handle With Care (2009), House Rules (2010), Sing You Home (2011), Lone Wolf (2012), The Storyteller (2013), Leaving Time (2014), and the YA novels Between The Lines (2012), and Off The Page (2015), co-written with her daughter Samantha van Leer. Her last ten novels including her highly acclaimed novel, Small Great Things (2016), have debuted at number one on the New York Times bestseller list. Her twenty-fifth novel, A Spark of Light, will be published October, 2018.

Review: A MORBID TASTE FOR BONES, Ellis Peter - audio book

Synopsis (audible.com)

In 1137 the ambitious head of Shrewsbury Abbey has decided to acquire the remains of Saint Winifred for his Benedictine order. Brother Cadfael is part of the expedition sent to her final resting place in Wales, where they find the villagers passionately divided by the Benedictines' offer for the saint's relics.

Canny, wise and all too worldly, Cadfael isn't surprised when this taste for bones leads to bloody murder. The leading opponent to moving the grave has been shot dead with a mysterious arrow, and some say Winifred herself dealt the blow. Brother Cadfael knows that a carnal hand did the killings, but he doesn't know that his plan to unearth a murderer may dig up a case of love and justice, where the wages of sin may be scandal - or his own ruin.

My Take

I chose this book because it is the first of the series. My fellow listener and I are already familiar with the Brother Cadfael character, having watched the TV series with Derek Jacobi playing the leading role, decades ago. We have also been to Shrewsbury on one of our trips to the UK.

These novels are a lovely reminder of a historical period which was a turbulent time at the end of the Middle Ages. Brother Cadfael lives in Shrewsbury, returned from the Crusades, and now a monk and a herbalist. In some senses his mysteries are very ordinary investigations, but they are imbued with a strong sense of history, and sometimes with a touch of romance.

In this story Brother Cadfael is part of an expedition to his native Wales to "liberate" St Winifred's bones which apparently have been neglected by the people who live in the village near where she is buried. The locals are understandably upset at the incoming Englishmen who have come to steal the bones and take them back to England.

The first in quite a long series of books, there is a lot of introductory material about Cadfael, his background, and those who live with him in the Shrewsbury monastery. 

At just over 7 hours this is a good title to be listened to over a couple of travelling weeks.

My rating: 4.3

The only other Brother Cadfael title that I have reviewed since beginning this blog is THE PILGRIM OF HATE
The title was #10 in the series, I listened to it back in 2010, with the same narrator.

See more about Ellis Peters titles that I had read before beginning this blog.

22 October 2018

Review: THE ONES YOU TRUST, Caroline Overington

Synopsis (publisher)

Emma Cardwell, celebrity mum and host of top-rating morning TV show Cuppa, seems to have it all: fame, money and a gorgeous family. But when her little girl disappears from day-care - captured on CCTV footage at a nearby shopping centre leaving with someone Emma has never seen before - her world is turned upside down.

As the minutes tick by, and pressure mounts, every part of Emma's life comes under examination. Is this a kidnapping, the work of a crazed stalker, or an obsessed fan? Is somebody out for revenge or is this something closer to home?

And there is the aching question: how much do we really know about those who care for our children . . . and about the people we love?

My Take

When Emma arrives home after a long day she finds that her husband has forgotten to collect their young daughter from child care. But it is now 8 pm so where is Fox? Why hasn't anybody from the child care centre contacted her?

The police are called in and despite their best efforts to keep the news low key the television station that Emma works for takes over the management of the publicity. Fox's disappearance turns out to be a publicity bonanza as PJ, Emma's colleague on the morning show, head up a live presentation that focusses on Fox's recovery.

The book has the reader guessing who has been responsible for the kidnapping, perhaps even Emma herself, and the story twists and turns almost unpredictably. I certainly didn't forsee the final explanation.

The story takes an almost cynical look at what goes on in the television industry to keep programmes alive, presenters attractive and popular, and fresh stories coming.

My rating: 4.7

I've also read

21 October 2018

Review: SCRUBLANDS, Chris Hammer

  • format: Kindle (Amazon)
  • File Size: 2387 KB
  • Print Length: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Allen & Unwin (July 25, 2018)
  • Publication Date: July 25, 2018
  • Sold by: Amazon Digital Services LLC
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B079Z1VHZL
Synopsis (Amazon)

In an isolated (Australian) country town brought to its knees by endless drought, a charismatic and dedicated young priest calmly opens fire on his congregation, killing five parishioners before being shot dead himself.

A year later, troubled journalist Martin Scarsden arrives in Riversend to write a feature on the anniversary of the tragedy. But the stories he hears from the locals about the priest and incidents leading up to the shooting don't fit with the accepted version of events his own newspaper reported in an award-winning investigation. Martin can't ignore his doubts, nor the urgings of some locals to unearth the real reason behind the priest's deadly rampage.

Just as Martin believes he is making headway, a shocking new development rocks the town, which becomes the biggest story in Australia. The media descends on Riversend and Martin is now the one in the spotlight. His reasons for investigating the shooting have suddenly become very personal.

Wrestling with his own demons, Martin finds himself risking everything to discover a truth that becomes darker and more complex with every twist. But there are powerful forces determined to stop him, and he has no idea how far they will go to make sure the town's secrets stay buried.

My Take:

This novel surprised me with the complexity of the plot.  It weaves a number of contemporary threads into the narrative. Some of these are revealed only as Martin Scarsend begins to investigate the ongoing impact of the tragic events that took place in Riversend nearly a year earlier.

Scarsend himself is "damaged goods" but his boss has sent him to write a human interest story which will perhaps help him get over the trauma he has suffered. Nothing prepares him for the heat of the drought stricken town and for the fact that no-one can tell him why the priest shot five locals.

My rating: 4.7

About the author

Christopher Hammer lives in Australia and has been a journalist for over twenty-five years. He has been an international correspondent, the chief political correspondent for The Bulletin, and a senior political journalist for The Age.

15 October 2018

Review: GALLOWS COURT, Martin Edwards

  • format: Kindle (Amazon)
  • File Size: 1094 KB
  • Publisher: Head of Zeus (September 6, 2018)
  • Publication Date: September 6, 2018
  • Sold by: Amazon Digital Services LLC
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B079GXJPC8
Synopsis (publisher)

LONDON, 1930.

Sooty, sulphurous, and malign: no woman should be out on a night like this . A spate of violent deaths – the details too foul to print – has horrified the capital and the smog-bound streets are deserted. But Rachel Savernake – the enigmatic daughter of a notorious hanging judge – is no ordinary woman. To Scotland Yard's embarrassment, she solved the Chorus Girl Murder, and now she's on the trail of another killer.

Jacob Flint, a young newspaperman temporarily manning The Clarion's crime desk, is looking for the scoop that will make his name. He's certain there is more to the Miss Savernake's amateur sleuthing than meets the eye. He's not the only one. His predecessor on the crime desk was of a similar mind – not that Mr Betts is ever expected to regain consciousness after that unfortunate accident...

Flint's pursuit of Rachel Savernake will draw him ever- deeper into a labyrinth of deception and corruption. Murder-by-murder, he'll be swept ever-closer to its dark heart – to that ancient place of execution, where it all began and where it will finally end: Gallows Court.

My take

At the centre of this novel are two characters: Jacob Flint, a young newspaperman working for The Clarion, a sensationalist daily; and Rachel Savernake, an incredibly wealthy amateur sleuth, the daughter of a judge renowned for his severe punishment and reputed to be mad at the end.

We know there is some sort of mystery surrounding Rachel Savernake right from the beginning. We are told so in a journal entry written in 1919 by a Juliet Brentano recording the death of her parents. Subsequent diary entries crop up in the novel and we attempt to reconcile the Rachel Savernake she writes about with the one we meet through Jacob Flint.

Jacob has come to head the Clarion's crime desk rather earlier than expected because his boss has been run down by a car and is not expected to live. Jacob is convinced that what happened was no accident and he attempts to work out what Mr Betts was investigating. Everything seems to lead to Rachel Savernake.

This was a challenging read, and even at the end when I thought I had worked everything out, how wrong I was!

Fantastic Fiction suggests this novel is the first in a series centred on Jacob Flint.

My rating: 4.5

A review from Cross Examining Crime

I've also read
4.3, SERPENTS IN EDEN (edit)

About the author

Martin Edwards is an Edgar award-winning crime writer whose seventh and most recent Lake District Mystery is The Dungeon House. Earlier books in the series are The Coffin Trail (short-listed for the Theakston's prize for best British crime novel of 2006), The Cipher Garden, The Arsenic Labyrinth (short-listed for the Lakeland Book of the Year award in 2008), The Serpent Pool, and The Hanging Wood.

Martin is a well-known crime fiction critic, and series consultant to the British Library's Crime Classics. His ground-breaking study of the genre between the wars, The Golden Age of Murder, has been warmly reviewed around the world. it has won the Edgar, Agatha and H.R.F. Keating awards, and is currently shortlisted for Anthony, Macavity, and CWA Dagger awards.

Martin has written eight novels about lawyer Harry Devlin, the first of which, All the Lonely People, was short-listed for the CWA John Creasey Memorial Dagger for the best first crime novel of the year, The early Devlin books are now enjoying a fresh life as ebooks, with new introductions by leading authors such as Val McDermid and Frances Fyfield, as well as other new material.

In addition Martin has written a stand-alone novel of psychological suspense, Take My Breath Away, and a much acclaimed novel featuring Dr Crippen, Dancing for the Hangman. The latest Devlin novel, Waterloo Sunset, appeared in 2008. He completed Bill Knox's last book, The Lazarus Widow. He has published many short stories, including the ebooks The New Mysteries of Sherlock Holmes and Acknowledgments and other stories. 'Test Drive' was short-listed for the CWA Short Story Dagger in 2006, while 'The Bookbinder's Apprentice' won the same Dagger in 2008.

A well-known commentator on crime fiction, he has edited 28 anthologies and published diverse non-fiction books, including a study of homicide investigation, Urge to Kill.An expert on crime fiction history, he is archivist of both the Crime Writers' Association and the Detection Club. He was elected eighth President of the Detection Club in 2015, and posts regularly to his blog, 'Do You Write Under Your Own Name?

10 October 2018

Milestone 100!

Yesterday I recorded my 100th book read this year. Doing well, as I had only aimed at 110.

You may be interested in how that count looks statistically, because it really indicates what I am reading:
British authors: 56
Library books : 52
New-to-me authors: 41
e-books: 22
Audio books: 18
American authors: 18
Australian Authors: 16

Almost nothing other than crime fiction, of course.

If you are interested in the nitty gritty then visit Reading Challenges Updates.

9 October 2018

Review: FINAL CUT (Cherringham 17), Matthew Costello, Neil Richards - audio book

  • from Audible
  • Narrated by: Neil Dudgeon
  • Length: 2 hrs and 44 mins
  • Unabridged Audiobook
  • Release date: 12-22-17
  • Language: English
  • Publisher: Lübbe Audio
Synopsis ( Audible)

When a big movie production comes to Cherringham, complete with lords, ladies, and flashing swords, the whole village is abuzz with excitement. But when a series of dangerous accidents threatens the life of the young lead, Zoe Harding, Sarah and Jack get involved. Are these really accidents? Or could they be something more sinister - even deadly? Who is trying to destroy the career of the beautiful young star - and why?

Cherringham is a serial novel à la Charles Dickens, with a new mystery thriller released each month. Set in the sleepy English village of Cherringham, the detective series brings together an unlikely sleuthing duo: English web designer Sarah and American ex-cop Jack. Thrilling and deadly - but with a spot of tea - it's like Rosamunde Pilcher meets Inspector Barnaby. Each of the self-contained episodes is a quick listen for the morning commute, while waiting for the doctor, or when curling up with a hot cuppa.

My Take

Judging by my fellow listener's reaction to the ending of this episode in the Cherringham series, I might have "done my dash" here for a while. While the plot was fine, the motives behind the series of accidents threatening Zoe Harding were a bit far-fetched, and in the long run, the ending was a disappointing and a bit lame.

The stories are beginning to remind me too much of Midsomer coincidences.

My rating: 3.8

I've also listened to
4.1, Cherringham 1-3
4.3, THE LAST PUZZLE, Cherringham 16
4.2, SECRET SANTA, Cherringham 25 

Review: IN THE SHADOW OF AGATHA CHRISTIE: Classic Crime Fiction by Forgotten Female Writers: 1850-1917, Leslie S. Klinger (edit)

  • format: Kindle (Amazon)
  • File Size: 3741 KB
  • Print Length: 323 pages
  • Page Numbers Source ISBN: 1681776308
  • Publisher: Pegasus Books (January 2, 2018)
  • Publication Date: January 2, 2018
  • Sold by: Amazon Digital Services LLC
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B074D4M6WR
Synopsis  (Amazon)

Before Agatha Christie became the world’s Queen of Crime, she stood on the talented shoulders of the female crime authors who came before her. This splendid new anthology by Leslie S. Klinger brings these exceptional writers out of Christie’s shadow and back into the spotlight they deserve.

Agatha Christie is undoubtedly the world’s best-selling mystery author, hailed as the “Queen of Crime,” with worldwide sales in the billions. Christie burst onto the literary scene in 1920, with The Mysterious Affair at Styles; her last novel was published in 1976, a career longer than even Conan Doyle’s forty-year span.

The truth is that it was due to the success of writers like Anna Katherine Green in America; L. T. Meade, C. L. Pirkis, the Baroness Orczy, and Elizabeth Corbett in England; and Mary Fortune in Australia that the doors were finally opened for women crime-writers. Authors who followed them, such as Patricia Wentworth, Dorothy Sayers, and, of course, Agatha Christie would not have thrived without the bold, fearless work of their predecessors—and the genre would be much poorer for their absence. So while Agatha Christie may still reign supreme, it is important to remember that she did not ascend that throne except on the shoulders of the women who came before her—and inspired her—and who are now removed from her shadow once and for all by this superb new anthology by Leslie S. Klinger.

Featuring: Mary Fortune, Harriet Prescott Spofford, Ellen Wood, Elizabeth Corbett, C. L. Pirkis, Geraldine Bonner, Ellen Glasgow, L. T. Meade, Baroness Orczy, Augusta Großer, M. E. Graddon, Anna Katherine Green, Carolyn Wells, Susan Glashell

My Take

The thing that struck me as I read the small biographies for each of these pre-Golden Age female crime fiction writers was how prolific they were, how many novels each one of them had written, how much choice late Victorian readers would have had.

Most of them were British, and from a 21st century perspective, many of them were Victorian and rather wordy even cumbersome in style. Agatha Christie would have felt like a breath of fresh air. I don't think I had realised how different readers in 1920 would have found THE MYSTERIOUS AFFAIR AT STYLES.

But these writers paved the way for crime fiction by female writers as an acceptable, if not quite literary, genre.

An interesting and educative anthology.

My rating: 4.3

About the author
Leslie S. Klinger is one of the world’s foremost authorities on Sherlock Holmes. He is the editor of the three-volume The New Annotated Sherlock Holmes. The first two volumes, The Complete Short Stories, won the Edgar for “Best Critical/Biographical” work. He is also the editor of the hugely successful The New Annotated H. P. Lovecraft. Klinger is a member of the Baker Street Irregulars and lives in Malibu, California.

8 October 2018

Review: THE FRENCH GIRL, Lexie Elliott

  • this edition published by Corvus 2018
  • ISBN 9-781786-495549
  • 296 pages
  • source: my local library
Synopsis (Fantastic Fiction)

Everyone has a secret...

They were six university students from Oxford - friends and sometimes more than friends - spending an idyllic week together in a French farmhouse. It was supposed to be the perfect summer getaway...until they met Severine, the girl next door.

But after a huge altercation on the last night of the holiday, Kate Channing knew nothing would ever be the same. There are some things you can't forgive. And there are some people you can't forget...like Severine, who was never seen again.

A decade later, the case is reopened when Severine's body is found behind the farmhouse. Questioned along with her friends, Kate stands to lose everything she's worked so hard to achieve as suspicion mounts all around her. Desperate to resolve her unreliable memories and fearful she will be forever bound to the memory of the woman who still haunts her, Kate finds herself entangled within layers of deception with no one to set her free...

My Take

Who can remember exactly what happened ten years ago?

After Kate and her friends returned to England and new careers after their holiday in France, Severine, the girl next door to where they stayed, was declared missing. They were all interviewed at the time to establish a timeline of when Severine was last seen, but she was never found.

Now her bones have been found down a well on the property they were staying in. One of their group has died in the war in Afghanistan and the rest have been apart establishing their careers. A policeman has come from France to interview them again, and Kate is made to feel that she is under suspicion. The policeman advises that she should "get a lawyer".

Events occurred that night that fractured their group forever and the real significance of some events has never been explored.

There is a paranormal element to this story that plays a significant role, but I didn't much like it.

My Rating: 4.4

About the author

LEXIE ELLIOTT grew up in Scotland, at the foot of the Highlands. She graduated from Oxford University, where she obtained a doctorate in Theoretical Physics. A keen sportswoman, she works in fund management in London, where she lives with her husband and two sons. The rest of her time is spent writing, or thinking about writing, and juggling family life and sport.

3 October 2018

Review: A QUIVER FULL OF ARROWS, Jeffrey Archer

  • this edition published Pan Books 2013
  • ISBN 978-1-5098-0729-1
  • 266 pages
Synopsis (publisher)

Quiver Full of Arrows is a collection of twelve exciting short stories from bestselling author, Jeffrey Archer.

Two friends fall under the spell of a New York beauty – with an unexpected outcome. A casual remark is taken seriously by a Chinese sculptor, and the British Ambassador becomes the owner of a priceless work of art . An insurance claims adviser has a most surprising encounter on the train home to Sevenoaks.

This marvellous collection of twelve stories ends with a hauntingly written, atmospheric account of two undergraduates at Oxford in the 1930s, a tale of bitter rivalry that ends in a memorable love story.

My Take

Stories in this collection
  • The Chinese Statue
  • The Luncheon
  • The Coup
  • The First Miracle
  • The Perfect Gentleman
  • One-Night Stand
  • The Century
  • Broken Routine
  • Henry's Hiccup
  • A Matter of Principle
  • The Hungarian Professor
  • Old Love
Followers of my blog will have noticed a penchant for Jeffrey Archer short stories just recently.
That is simply because they are so good. Sometimes mystery, sometimes just simply quirky, all with marvellously drawn characters.

In this collection Archer says that 11 of the stories are based on known incidents and only one is totally the result of his own imagination. Each of them is 20-30 pages long. Just right for a bit of night time distraction.

My calculation now is that I have read at least 60 short stories by Archer and he really is the master.

My rating: 4.5

The other collections I've read

Review: TWELVE RED HERRINGS, Jeffrey Archer - audio book

  • audio book from Audible.com
  • Narrated by: Alec McCowen
  • Length: 5 hrs and 28 mins
  • Abridged Audiobook
    Release date: 06-01-07
    Collection printed 1994
  • Language: English
  • Publisher: Pan Macmillan Publishers Ltd.
Synopsis (Audible.com)

An imprisoned man is certain that his supposed murder victim is very much alive; a female driver is pursued relentlessly by a menacing figure in another vehicle; a young artist gets the biggest break of her career; a restless beauty manages the perfect birthday celebration; an escaped Iraqi on Saddam Hussein's death list pays an involuntary visit to his homeland. How will they react? How would you?

Twelve Red Herrings is the third collection of irresistible short stories from a master storyteller. Cleverly styled, with richly drawn characters and ingeniously plotted story lines, each of the 12 tales ends with a delightfully unexpected turn of events.

From Wikipedia
The book contains 12 stories.
  • "Trial and Error"
  • "Cheap at Half The Price"*
  • "Dougie Mortimer's Right Arm"*
  • "Do Not Pass Go"*
  • "Chunnel Vision"*
  • "Shoeshine Boy"*
  • "You'll Never Live to Regret It"*
  • "Never Stop on the Motorway"*
  • "Not for Sale"
  • "Timeo Danaos"*
  • "An Eye for an Eye"*
  • "One Man's Meat..."
In the preface the author notes that the stories indicated with an asterisk are "based on known incidents (some of them embellished with considerable licence)."

My Take

Once again a batch of short stories, involving some mysteries, but most are on the edge of crime fiction.
This audio production makes good listening particularly as the narration by Alec McCowen is so well done. Each of the stories has an unexpected twist in the final moments.

My rating:4.5

I've also reviewed
They are all collections of short stories.

What I read in September 2018

Pick of the Month 2018
I seem to have slowed down a bit with my reading in the last month - some of the books were a little longer.
  1. 4.3, THE CELTIC STONE, Nick Hawkes
  2. 4.4, THE PARIS SECRET, Karen Swan
  3. 4.8, THE SHROUDED PATH, Sarah Ward 
  4. 4.6, CAT O'NINE TALES, Jeffrey Archer - audio book
  5. 4.4, THE BURNING CHAMBERS, Kate Mosse 
  6. 4.5, BRING ME BACK, B. A. Paris
  7. 4.5, ODD CHILD OUT, Gilly Macmillan 
  8. 4.6, DARK WATER, Robert Bryndza
  9. 4.4, THE WIFE BETWEEN US, Greer Hendricks and Sarah Pekkanen  
My pick of the month was THE SHROUDED PATH by Sarah Ward

See what others have read this month

1 October 2018

Pick of the Month September 2018

Crime Fiction Pick of the Month 2018
Many crime fiction bloggers write a summary post at the end of each month listing what they've read, and some, like me, even go as far as naming their pick of the month.

This meme is an attempt to aggregate those summary posts.
It is an invitation to you to write your own summary post for September 2018, identify your crime fiction best read of the month, and add your post's URL to the Mr Linky below.
If Mr Linky does not appear for you, leave the URL in a comment and I will add it myself.

You can list all the books you've read in the past month on your post, even if some of them are not crime fiction, but I'd like you to nominate your crime fiction pick of the month.

That will be what you will list in Mr Linky too -
ROSEANNA, Maj Sjowall & Per Wahloo - MiP (or Kerrie)

You are welcome to use the image on your post and it would be great if you could link your post back to this post on MYSTERIES in PARADISE.


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