September 2010

RICHARD ABSHIRE – Turnaround Jack. Morrow, hardcover, 1990. Penguin, paperback, 1992.

   According to the short biography inside the front cover, Abshire was a policeman for 12 years before becoming a real-life PI for two. And not so coincidentally, this is exactly why the activity in this mystery, the second recorded case of fictional PI Jack Kyle, is authentic enough to be — dare I say it? — boring.


   Which is by no means meant to be derogatory. In fact, quite the opposite. Most real-life PI work consists of endless hours doing nothing but watching, checking down leads, looking up information, and sitting and driving and sitting again.

   That’s just what the case is here, and it’s well into the second half of the book before anything at all out of the ordinary begins to happen.

   Kyle is hired to take some pictures of a rich man’s wife, and on page 127 he has turned in his report, along with some well-received video tapes. The client is very pleased.

   Case closed? No, sir. Seven pages later Kyle is worked over by a couple of professionals. A body is found, then two, and a customs agent suddenly seems to have disappeared.

   This is a hard-boiled detective story, and in spite of the slow beginning, the second half of the book is well worth waiting for. And so that you don’t get me wrong, let me hasten to add that even in the first half Abshire is nearly as witty in descriptive passages as Robert B. Parker, say, and it doesn’t drag. It speeds by almost as fast as a hot rod on roller skates. (This is NOT an example of the author’s wit.)

   Sometime in his past, Kyle earned his nickname — the book’s title — from his tendency to become involved in cases amply endowed with the inscrutable art of the double-cross, in its several and sundry forms.

   So it is with the story in this book. There are a couple of small glitches in the plot, but none, I dare say, that are even closely essential to the story line. They’re just enough to make you wonder why editors don’t bother to edit any more.

   The first Jack Kyle mystery was Dallas Drop (1989). Did a third one ever appear? If so, I’ve missed it, and from the evidence shown here, I certainly hope I haven’t.

— September 1993.


[UPDATE] 09-29-10.   There was a third one, as I suspected at the time, The Dallas Deception (1992), but that was it. No other cases for Jack Kyle besides these three, which may be a case of Too Bad, given my comments above.

   In the 1980s Richard Abshire was the co-author of two mystery novels with a series character called Charlie Gants, who according to one website, is an ex-homicide detective who as a PI of sorts investigates cases with a super-natural twist. In 1991 he and William R. Clair collaborated again under the name of Terry Marlow, producing one police novel, a thriller titled Target Blue.

   As Cliff Garnett, a house name, in 2000 Abshire wrote at least one of the “Talon Force” men’s adventure books, but he doesn’t appear to have written anything since.

Reviews by L. J. Roberts

NANCY PICKARD – The Scent of Rain and Lightning. Ballantine, hardcover, May 2010. Trade paperback: February 2011.

NANCY PICJARD Scent of Rain and Lightning

Genre:   Mystery. Leading character: Jody Linder; standalone. Setting:   Kansas.

First Sentence:   Until she was twenty-six, Jody Linder felt suspicious of happiness.

    In 1986, ranch hand Billy Crosby was known for being resentful, a drunk, and an abuser. Fired from working on the Linder family ranch, he was accused of killing a cow and tearing down fences, but the charges didn’t stick.

   Fearing retribution, 3-year-old Jody Lindner was taken from her parent’s home in town to spend the night at her grandparent’s ranch farmhouse. The next morning, her father was found murdered and her mother missing, with only her blood-stained dress found in Billy’s truck.

   Now, after serving 23 years on circumstantial evidence, Billy’s sentence has been commuted and he is returning to town. Jody learns that not everyone, including his son, thought Billy was guilty. The past isn’t always past.

   Ms. Pickard has a great voice. She draws you in from the first sentence and captivates you to the very last sentence. She brilliantly conveys the aftermath of murder and its impact on the lives of both the families of the victim and the accused.

   Yet even in tragedy, there is humor. When Jody’s grandmother realizes Jody is afraid of God because of the prayer “…if I should die before I wake…” and mentally tells God, “…You ought to be ashamed of yourself.” She heard a deep voice in her mind retort: “I never told anybody to say that stupid prayer.”

   Pickard’s skills with dialogue and story balance are only two aspects of her talent. Other areas in which she shines are character and sense of place. Her characters are alive, nuanced and real in that they are not all or always likable. The family is tight-knit but not perfect; the townspeople are representative of any small town.

   I felt connected to the principal characters and appreciated seeing them grow and change over time. The depiction of ranch life, the small towns around them, the impact of weather on the life and livelihood of both is so well done.

   This is a beautifully written book and a very good mystery with excellent twists and escalating tension. While it didn’t have quite the “wow” factor of The Virgin of Small Plains, it is powerful, effective and affecting. I highly recommend reading it.

Rating:   Very Good Plus.


A TOUCH OF FROST: “If Dogs Run Free.”   ITV1 [UK], 04-05 April 2010. David Jason (Insp. Jack Frost), Bruce Alexander (Supt Mullett), John Lyons (D.S. Toolan), Arthur White, Niamh Cusack, Phyllis Logan (Christine Moorhead). Screenplay: Michael Russell, based on characters created by R.D. Wingfield. Director: Paul Harrison.


   After 17 years this venerable programme has come to an end, ostensibly because David Jason took the perhaps rather belated decision that he was too old credibly to play a serving police officer.

   This final two-parter (two two-hour episodes, less adverts), “If Dogs Run Free”, starts with an illegal dog-fight that the police are staking out thanks to a tip-off. Frost is involved because there is a major criminal involved in the drug trade who is living in Denton and is known to like dog-fights.

   By chance he is late and when the police move in he has not arrived. However his consequential desire to punish the informant leads to major consequences. Meanwhile someone seem to be repeating some criminal acts of 20 years before, including violent death, that Frost was involved in.

   This was a highly enjoyable episode in this long-running season and I enjoyed watching it, although Frost’s burgeoning romance with the RSPCA lady, Christine Moorhead, was not as riveting for me as the investigations.

   Amid much publicity, the production company filmed two endings and, after the showing, screened the alternative (and similar, except in personnel) ending on the internet.

   Sad to say both endings were rather low key and it seems a little odd that the producers should choose to go out that way, though I suspect that, rather crassly, they thought that by airing the two possible endings approach they may get more viewers.



IT STARTED WITH EVE. Universal, 1941. Deanna Durbin, Charles Laughton, Robert Cummings, Guy Kibbee, Margaret Tallichet, Catharine Doucet, Walter Catlett, Charles Coleman, Mary Gordon, Sig Arno, Mantan Moreland. Screenplay by Norman Krasna and Leo Townsend; cinematography by Rudolph Mate; music director, Charles Previn. Director: Henry Koster. Shown at Cinevent 42, Columbus OH, May 2010.

   Tycoon Jonathan Reynolds (Charles Laughton) is expected to die momentarily, but when his playboy son Johnny (Robert Cummings) arrives at his bedside, Reynolds asks for his son’s fiancee Gloria Pennington (Margaret Tallichet), whom he’s never met.

   The distraught son, unable to locate her at her hotel, persuades hatcheck girl Anne Terry (Durbin) to substitute for Gloria in what he believes to be his father’s final moments. Of course, the father recovers and is delighted with his son’s choice. And the plot is off and heating up rapidly.

   Durbin is, as always, a perky delight, Laughton is wonderful as the irascible father, and Cummings is bearable. (I’ve never forgiven him for being the major casting flaw in King’s Row.)

   But it’s Walter Catlett, as Reynolds’ frantic doctor, who walks off with the comedy honors. Durbin sings prettily and she and Laughton dance a mean conga in this very entertaining comedy.



ANTHONY WYNNE – Emergency Exit. Hutchinson, UK, hardcover, 1941. Julian Messner, US, hardcover, 1944.

   The popularity in the United States of Anthony Wynne seems to have waned with the onset of World War Two. Wynne’s longtime American publisher, Lippincott, seems to have dropped the author after it published his Doornails Never Die (1939). Of Wynne’s next three books, published between 1940 and 1942, I’m aware of only one that appeared in the United States: Emergency Exit (1941), which was belatedly published in the U. S. in 1944 by Julian Messner.

   I’m happy Messner published Exit, because it’s a fine example of a locked room mystery — in this case murder in a private, sealed bomb shelter, surrounded by snow. How’s that for a miracle problem?

   As is very often the case in Wynne’s mystery novels, the murder his Great Detective Dr. Hailey is called on to investigate is that of a millionaire financier; and the murder has taken place at the man’s opulent country estate. Some good descriptive writing sets the stage, but we soon get down to the problem, which is initially laid out at an inquest.

   Naturally the murder victim proves to have been rather an unlovable fellow, and we are presented with half-a-dozen suspects who might well have done the old man in — but how?!

   Exit is not as good a detective novel, in my opinion, as Murder of a Lady, reviewed here. The setting and characters are less original and the likely identity of the key culprit should not tax readers overmuch.

   Also, movement flags a bit in the central portion of the novel (which consists too much of Hailey wondering about the country house and its grounds).

   Still, Emergency Exit should leave admirers of Golden Age mystery pleased. The why? question turns out to be quite interesting and the locked room problem (how?) cleverly turned out indeed (though a map would have been nice).

   As far as the characters go, the most interesting aspect of the novel is the relationship between the financier’s daughter and the man she loves, a heroic fighter pilot who received a blow on the head and is suspected of the murder by the police, as he may not be “quite right” anymore. Readers may find the daughter rather unbearably priggish, but the fighter pilot is an interesting character.

   Wynne also allows himself some interesting asides on the war and England’s resolve to fight it. And the title proves itself quite an apt one. A good tale.

   Uploaded earlier this morning was Part 38 of the Addenda to the Revised Crime Fiction IV, by Allen J. Hubin. It’s another huge installment, well over 80 printed pages long, or approximately 163K online.

   And of course you’re certainly welcome to stop by and look around. Much of the data consists of the usual: corrections to previous data, added birth and death dates — always more of the latter in each new upload, alas — identities behind pen names discovered, settings and series characters added. Even though the closing date of the Bibliography remains fixed at the year 2000, there is no end to the flow of information coming in.

   I’m pleased to say that some of data is generated from posts on this blog, and the followup comments. As one such example, a thorough review of the series characters in Mignon Eberhart’s books and short stories was conducted in the comments following Curt Evan’s review of her novel The Pattern.

   Al checked them out, and in Part 38 of the Addenda he’s added the ones he’s decided as having played major roles in Eberhart’s work. This is one small example of the updating and correcting that’s still going on — Part 39 is already in progress — with input from many sources and contributors. Thanks to all!

Steve and David —

   Hi, it’s me again. I’m the one who suggested the recent “Man on the Run” lists which appeared on your blog, for which I am eternally grateful. They have been of enormous assistance.

   Here’s another question, based on a thought that came to me, one somewhere between screwball and noir. It is about a retired single man who places a Personal ad in a sailing magazine (this is very common) seeking a woman to sail around the world with him “as long as it’s fun.” He finds the right woman and they set off, he falls in love and they get married. But of course she has another husband who wants her to kill the new husband to collect the insurance.

    So it’s a noir on a boat.

    Double Indemnity and The Postman Always Rings Twice certainly come to mind but I’m sure I’m missing some good ones. Murder on the High Seas (1932, aka Love Bound) is very dated. Body Heat meets Dead Calm meets A Fish Called Wanda is probably what I’m going for.

   If there are any films you could recommend I would be even more eternally grateful. Thank you.


       — —

   Steve here first. I believe the most recent variation of the “Man on the Run” movie lists was actually a “Couples on the Run” list, which you can find here. (There are links in that post that you can use to find most if not all of the earlier ones.)

   David Vineyard is much better at this than I am. Here’s his reply, which I received soon after I sent Josh’s new inquiry on to him:

DEAD CALM was the first to come to mind, but I can’t think of a lot of films with a similar premise. Most of the films with a sailing theme tend to be adventure films involving treasure or pearls, deep sea diving, and some tough skipper like John Payne (CROSSWINDS), Errol Flynn (MARA MARU), or John Wayne (WAKE OF THE RED WITCH).

John Sturges’s UNDERWATER with Jane Russell, Richard Egan, and Gilbert Roland is typical, but again it’s a treasure hunt movie, and existed mostly to exploit the then new technology allowing for extensive technicolor photography underwater.

There is a true story with a similar theme — minus the murder — Nicholas Roeg’s CASTAWAY from 1987 where Oliver Reed advertises for a woman to be marooned on a desert island with him and Amanda Donohoe answers the ad; based on Lucy Irvine’s book about her experiences. Oddly enough Irvine is every bit the knockout Donohoe is and the odder bits of the film are true.

As I said, there is no murder or crime — other than criminal stupidity on the part of Reed’s character — but you might pick up some ideas and Donohoe is nice to look at nude, semi nude, and in a bikini while the book is fully illustrated with color photos of Irvine in the same state.

You might also check out the miniseries AND THE SEA WILL TELL with Richard Crenna, based on Vincent Bugliosi’s book of the trial and investigation of a couple accused of murdering another couple on a yacht who were sharing a deserted island with them. Rachel Ward played Bugliosi’s client, on trial for murder. It used to show up regularly on cable and there may be a VHS or DVD.

Again, no murder, but THE LITTLE HUT with Ava Gardner, Stewart Granger, and David Niven has the wife, husband, and boyfriend all stranded on a desert island together after a shipwreck. Diverting little sex comedy handsomely shot in technicolor. At least you get to see what sort of a Tarzan Granger might have made.

Most of these are going to be set on islands rather than the boat.

A TOUCH OF LARCENY is a wry tale based on Andrew Garve’s THE MEGSTONE PLOT where Naval officer James Mason contrives to shipwreck himself on his holiday and be accused of treason while missing in hopes of making a fortune suing the British tabloids when he is rescued — everything goes wrong of course. You can check out my review here on the blog

A RAW WIND IN EDEN has wealthy Esther Williams plane crash and she is rescued on a remote island by Jeff Chandler where jealousy, murder, and every other complication ensues.

L’AVVENTURA by Michelangelo Antonioni is of course the classic film (skip the remake with Madonna) of a spoiled rich woman (Monica Vitti) ship wrecked with a crude sailor (Gabriele Ferzetti) .

At least a small section of ARRIVEDERCI BABY! features lonely hearts killer Tony Curtis and Black Widow Rossano Shiaffano trying to kill each other while sailing in a black comedy.

And you might check out CAPTAIN RON a particularly unfunny comedy in which Martin Short and family inherit a sail boat and take on captain Kurt Russell an eye patched drunken lecher for a vacation from Hell — if you are masochistic enough to sit through it.

Almost as bad is THE ISLAND based on Peter Benchley’s book about a modern man (Michael Caine) and his son whose yachting holiday is disturbed when they are taken hostage by latter day pirates. This is the one where Leonard Maltin’s terrible review noted “You know you are in trouble when David Warner is the most normal guy on the island.” He’s absolutely right, if anything he is too kind, though in fairness he has no lower rating than BOMB.

Again most are going to be the shipwreck theme more than the boat itself, everything from THE ADMIRABLE CRICHTON (Kenneth More, Diane Cliento) — which was also a Bing Crosby musical PARADISE LAGOON — to SWISS FAMILY ROBINSON.

You might check out EBB TIDE, a tough little adventure film based on Robert Louis Stevenson’s story with Ray Milland, Oscar Homloka, and Lloyd Nolan and remade as ADVENTURE ISLAND with Rory Calhoun. Nolan is quite good as the monomaniacal madman in the original, shot in early color.

There is a little British film from the post war period where a honeymooning couple sailing to Calais pick up a ship wreck survivor and find themselves involved in a smuggling plot, but the name escapes me — it’s a slight and very short comedy.

And there is another with John Cassavettes (of all people) where a honeymooning couple try living on a small island in the Caribbean, but again the name eludes me — should be easy enough to find though as Cassavettes didn’t do a lot of comedy. Laurel and Hardy’s last feature involved them on a small boat, shipwrecked, and with a nuclear bomb if my memory is right.

Ship board crime and murder is a little better represented, with THE PRINCESS COMES ACROSS (Carol Lombard and Fred MacMurray, reviewed here, DANGEROUS CROSSING (based on John Dickson Carr’s “Cabin B-13” with Jeanne Crain and Michael Rennie remade for television as TREACHEROUS CROSSING), THE GREAT LOVER ( Bob Hope and Rhonda Fleming), JUGGERNAUT (Richard Harris, Anthony Hopkins, Omar Sharif battle an extortionist), DARKER THAN AMBER (Rod Taylor as Travis McGee), and THE LAST OF SHEILA (James Mason, James Coburn, Anthony Perkins …).

That last one is an outstanding mystery/suspense film with an all star cast including Dyan Cannon, Joan Hackett, and Raquel Welch and written by mystery fans Perkins and composer Stephen Sondheim (who collaborated on Broadway with Hugh Wheeler, one half of Q. Patrick).

And of course disaster at sea is well represented in all three films entitled TITANIC (1943, 1953, 1997), A NIGHT TO REMEMBER, THE LAST VOYAGE, SHIP OF FOOLS, VOYAGE OF THE DAMNED (the last two more drama than disaster— save the emotional kind), ABANDON SHIP, ARISE MY LOVE, THE POSEIDON ADVENTURE, TWILIGHT OF THE GODS, GOLDEN RENDEZVOUS, CAPTAIN CHINA, KRAKATOA EAST OF JAVA (and it’s not East of Java, in fact it is West of Java), and Hitchcock’s LIFEBOAT.

Hammond Innes THE WRECK OF THE MARY DEARE was filmed by Michael Anderson with Charlton Heston and Gary Cooper and involved the skipper of small salvage ship uncovering skullduggery at sea. BREAK IN THE CIRCLE (based on the novel by Philip Loraine), THE HOUSE OF SEVEN HAWKS (based on Victor Canning’s HOUSE OF TURKISH FLIES), NEVER LET ME GO (based on Andrew Garve’s TWO IF BY SEA), ACTION OF THE TIGER (based on John Welland’s novel), and A TWIST OF SAND (based on Geoffrey Jenkins novel) all deal with international intrigue and small boats,

S.O.S. PACIFIC is a solid little suspense film about a plane load of Grand Hotel types who crash on an island that is about to be used for nuclear test — Eddie Constantine (for once in his own voice), Pier Angelli, Richard Attenborogh (outstanding), and John Gregson star and Guy Green directed. Really nerve wracking suspense — sort of a South Pacific version of Dick Powell’s SPLIT SECOND.

Hopefully this will be some help. Nothing really fits quiet as well as DEAD CALM, but some of these are in the same general area. There are a handful of horror and sf films that come close — everything from THE CREATURE OF THE BLACK LAGOON to some of the made for television Bermuda Triangle movies, but that list could go on forever, and I really don’t think you are interested in mutant sharks, zombies, aliens, and man eating fish.

But that’s all I can come up with off hand. Book wise you might try the novels of J.R.L. Anderson and Bernard Cornwell’s thrillers, they are to small boats what Dick Francis is to racing, and of course Charles Williams who wrote the novel DEAD CALM.

Dorothy Dunnett’s Johnson Johnson books usually involve sailing too, and so do many of the thrillers in the Buchan mold by Hammond Innes, Geoffrey Jenkins, Wilbur Smith, Desmond Bagley, Eric Ambler (as Eliot Reed with Charles Rodda), Andrew Garve, and such.


DON Q, SON OF ZORRO. United Artists, 1925. Douglas Fairbanks, Mary Astor, Jack McDonald, Donald Crisp, Stella De Lanti, Warner Oland, Jean Hersholt. Based on the novel Don Q’s Love Story by Kate Prichard & Hesketh Prichard. Director: Donald Crisp.


   Three Bucks at a local Grocery Store sufficed to deliver unto me a genuine Rarity, Don Q, Son of Zorro. The most enjoyable of Douglas Fairbanks Sr.’s Swashbucklers I’ve seen to date.

   I’ve carped before about the dreadful lack of Pace in Doug’s Costume Pictures, a defect that causes the films to drag even in the midst of some of the most flamboyant and fun-to-watch capering ever committed to the Screen. Don Q, however, harks back to the early knockabout comedies that made Fairbanks’ reputation (along with those of Chaplin, Keaton, et. al.) and spends most of its time indulging Doug in that insouciant showing-off he did so well.

   Hard to believe this fast-paced souffle was directed by none other than Donald Crisp, Hollywood’s resident Patriarch/Wet Blanket in films from How Green Was My Valley to Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.


   Crisp elicits neat performances from Warner (Charlie Chan) Oland as a German Prince, Jean (Dr. Christian) Hersholt as a fawning toady, and does a surprisingly neat turn himself in the Young-Basil-Rathbone style as a lecherous cad.

   As for Fairbanks, Crisp manages to indulge him without over-indulging him, and never lets the pace flag for a moment.

   No mean feats, those.

Editorial Comment: This film is, of course, a sequel to The Mark of Zorro (1920), also, as everyone knows, with Douglas Fairbanks, Sr. Out of curiosity, I investigated. The book by the Prichards (a mother and son collaboration) has no connection with Zorro whatsoever.



TAFFY CANNON – A Pocket Full of Karma. Nan Robinson #1. Carroll & Graf, hardcover, 1993. Reprint paperback: Fawcett Crest, 1995. This is Cannon’s first mystery, though she has had one novel published previously.


   Nan Robinson is an investigator with the State Bar of California, single and in her late thirties. She is surprised when a letter arrives at the office for her ex-secretary, Debra, who hadn’t worked there in three years.

   More puzzling still, it was from her mother. Nan and her secretary were from the same town, and though they had never been close friends, Nan feels guilty for not having kept better track of her.

   She decides to deliver the letter in person, but finds an empty house, with signs that the woman had vanished rather abruptly. Her curiosity aroused, she begins to try to track her down, and discovers that she has been working for a firm specializing in hypnotic regression to past incarnations.

   Just to complicate things, Nan finds herself attracted strangely to one of the owners of the firm. But what’s happened to Debra, and where is she?

   We know where Debra is, or at least what happened to her, because the book opens with a couple of pages from the mind of the killer. There are several other such interludes, though the rest of the story is told third-person from Nan’s viewpoint.

   This is a competently told first mystery, with only a few unlikely aspects to the plot. Nan is a likable enough character, though in all honesty not someone who really grabbed my attention or enlisted my sympathies.

   One saving grace is that she doesn’t fall in love with a cop. All told, this is a decent if not exceptional book, making it better than many.

— Reprinted from Ah, Sweet Mysteries #10, November 1993.

      The Nan Robinson series —

    A Pocketful of Karma. Carroll & Graf, hc, 1993.
    Tangled Roots. Carroll & Graf, hc, 1995.


    Class Reunions Are Murder. Gold Medal, pb, 1996.


ALFRED HITCHCOCK Magazine - June 1961

“A Home Away from Home.” An episode of The Alfred Hitchcock Hour (Season 2, Episode 1). First air date: 27 September 1963. Ray Milland, Claire Griswold, Mary La Roche, Virginia Gregg, Ben Wright, Connie Gilchrist, Brendan Dillan. Writer: Robert Bloch, based on his short story in Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine, June 1961. Director: Herschel Daugherty.

   Young and pretty Natalie Rivers (Claire Griswold) is on her way to visit relatives when she decides to drop in on her uncle, Dr. Howard Fennick (Ray Milland), whom she has never actually met. Fennick runs a private sanitarium, where he practices “permissive therapy,” allowing the inmates more latitude than is usual in such institutions.

   Natalie isn’t really surprised by the behavior of the patients — that they would be rather egocentric is to be expected. Her apprehension level rises, however, when she encounters a man locked away upstairs who keeps claiming that he is the doctor’s assistant and that Natalie’s uncle is no doctor.

   Imagine Natalie’s level of apprehension when she discovers that dead body in the dumbwaiter ….

   Ray Milland (1905-86) was a versatile Welsh actor, a leading man when he was younger but a fine villain in his latter days. He was murdered in Payment Deferred (1932) but came back as Bulldog Drummond (Bulldog Drummond Escapes) in 1937.

   He also appeared in Ministry of Fear (1944), The Big Clock (1948), Alias Nick Beal (1949), Dial M for Murder (1954), The Safecracker (1958), Markham (a TV series, 1959-60, as a lawyer/detective), tangled a couple of times with Lieutenant Columbo (1971-72), featured prominently in “Too Many Suspects” (1975, the prequel to the Ellery Queen TV series), and even menaced the Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew (1978).

   Robert Bloch (1917-94) specialized in horror, but he could do suspense as well. After Psycho (1960), he got into TV with five episodes of Lock Up, ten installments of Thriller, ten with Alfred Hitchcock Presents and seven more with The Alfred Hitchcock Hour, as well as three episodes of Star Trek (including “Wolf in the Fold,” in which 23rd-century spacemen encounter Jack the Ripper).

    “A Home Away from Home” can be viewed on Hulu here.

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