Review: Conviction by Denise Mina

 

Title: Conviction

Author: Denise Mina

Published: June 25th 2019, Little, Brown & Co

Status: Read June 2019, courtesy Mulholland Books/Netgalley

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My Thoughts:

Sharp, fast-paced, witty and vivid, Conviction by Denise Mina is a lively and engrossing thriller.

Reeling from learning that an old friend, Leon Parker, is assumed to be responsible for the murder-suicide of his two children during her morning coffee on her favourite true crime podcast, Anna McDonald is further devastated when her husband announces over breakfast that he is leaving her, for her pregnant best friend. As she lies on the floor in her hallway considering ending it all, Anna is interrupted by her best friend’s shattered husband, celebrity Fin Cohen and, in need of a distraction from the mornings events, she impulsively decides on a road trip, Fin in tow, with the idea of proving that the producer of ‘Death and the Dana’ has got it all wrong. It’s not the wisest of decisions, especially when a photo of her with Fin goes viral, and now Anna, who used to be someone else, is back on the radar of the woman she believes killed Leon and his family, the same woman who once wanted her dead.

I found Anna to be an utterly compelling narrator for reasons I can’t quite define. Anna is, at least initially, not very likeable, she is unpleasant, rude, and an admitted liar, but well, we meet her on what we assume is probably the worst day of her life. As the story unfolds the reliability of Anna’s narrative remains suspect, but somewhere along the line she earns sympathy, admiration, and eventually trust.

Conviction has more depth than one might expect, exploring themes such as privilege, corruption, mental illness, assault and identity. While the plausibility of the thriller plot may be stretched a bit thin, I found it easy to dismiss any inconsistencies and absurdities. I guessed where responsibility for The Dana’s fate lay fairly early on, but there were other surprises I didn’t see coming, and I was particularly stunned by the circumstances that forced Anna to hide her identity.

I really liked the way in which Mina grounds the novel so thoroughly within modern society and she does an excellent job of exploring the double edged power of social media. The true crime podcast ‘Death and The Dana’ frames the mystery, as Anna and Fin google, tweet, Instagram, and ‘cast as they race across Europe, in their pursuit, and escape, of the truth.

Conviction is a terrific read- entertaining, astute, and inventive. This is the first book I’ve read by Denise Mina, but on the strength of it I have every intention of hunting up her backlist.

++++++

Available from Hachette Book Group US

Or from your preferred retailer via Indiebound I Book Depository I Booko

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Review: Devil’s Lair by Sarah Barrie

 

Title: Devil’s Lair

Author: Sarah Barrie

Published: June 17th 2019, HQ Fiction

Status: Read June 2019, courtesy Harlequin Australia

+++++

My Thoughts:

Two years after Callie’s life is devastated by a shocking incident she flees relentless scrutiny to find sanctuary in a rural cottage in the Central Highlands of Tasmania. Changing her name, and her look, Callie hopes to make a fresh start, and when she is unexpectedly offered a job at nearby tourist retreat, Calico Lodge, she decides it’s an opportunity too good to pass up. Made to feel welcome by the owners, particularly Connor Atherton, and slowly winning over her gruff landlord at Waldron House, Callie begins to believe she can escape her past…until a psychotic killer revives a long held grudge.

Blurring gothic sensibilities with psychological suspense, The Devil’s Lair by Sarah Barrie is a gripping thriller that kept me compulsively turning the pages until the early hours of the morning. I experienced an almost visceral reaction to the sense of unease that builds as the story unfolds, finding myself startling at every unexpected noise outside my darkened window.

Barrie establishes the disquieting presence of Waldron House with descriptions of ‘shabby green walls and scarred wooden floors’, dim rooms crowded with boxes and dusty antique furniture, and the overgrown, wild gardens. Strange symbols are carved or drawn on door frames, the cellar door sports a large padlock, and chunks of black tormaline are placed on window sills. Add to that the odd noises and other strange occurrences that begin to plague Callie, as well as the disturbing rumours that persist regarding the property’s history, and the grandeur of Waldron House begins to lose its charm.

Callie is a sympathetic character, the tragedy that caused her to flee the Hunter Valley is horrifying to contemplate, and then, just as she begins to find her feet in Tasmania, members of the community are targeted by unspeakable violence, and Callie experiences a cascade of unsettling events that causes her to question not only her safety, but her sanity.

Contrivances were easy to dismiss as I got caught up in the story, and as the truth about the past and present unravels, Barrie stuns with plot twists that reveal shameful secrets, dangerous obsessions, and horrifying acts of revenge.

A compelling and darkly atmospheric tale, Devil’s Lair is a riveting thriller. I enjoyed it so much I’ve ordered Blood Tree River, also by Sarah Barrie, which shares the novel’s location and some of the characters though it is not directly related.

Read an Excerpt

++++++

Available from Harlequin/HarperCollins AU

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Review: A Lifetime of Impossible Days by Tabitha Bird

 

Title: A Lifetime of Impossible Days

Author: Tabitha Bird

Published: June 4th 2019, Viking

Status: Read May 2019, courtesy Penguin AU

++++++

My Thoughts:

A Lifetime of Impossible Days is an impossibly enchanting debut from Tabitha Bird.

Silver Willa is 93 when she insists that her carer takes her into town on the first of June 2050 to post two Very Important Boxes.

Middle Willa is 33 years old when she receives a collection slip from the post office that she has every intention of ignoring.

Super Gumboots Willa is 8 years old when she finds a battered box, inside is a jar of water, accompanied by a note that says: ‘One ocean: plant in the backyard.’, which she does, while wishing for the impossible.

“Here’s what I know about impossible things. We can’t command them, but we can allow space for them in our minds.”

When the impossible happens, Super Gumboot Willa hopes it is an opportunity to save herself, and her younger sister, Lottie. Middle Willa refuses to acknowledge that the impossible offers any chance of change. Silver Willa remembers only that the impossible is her only hope.

This is a compassionate, emotional journey of tragedy, trauma, loss, love, forgiveness, and hope. I was moved to tears more than once by A Lifetime of Impossible Days. Though sensitively handled, the pain of Willa’s experiences are at times overwhelming as Bird explores the experience of family violence and abuse, and it’s lasting repercussions. Yet those tears also came when the Willa’s achieved the seemingly impossible, for their courage, and strength.

“Because I know one thing, Willa. We are all the ages we have ever been. We carry around our trauma. And if we have unfinished business at one of those ages we can’t move on to have a healthy adult life.”

Beautifully crafted, the past, present and future are deftly woven together, a strand at a time, ensuring the impossible makes sense. It requires an extraordinary imagination to write such a complex story, though thankfully only an ordinary one to appreciate it.

“We’re all stories, Willa. How else do you tell a story if you don’t make it all up? Sometimes, when everything seems lost, you just have to keep making stuff up”

A whimsical, heart-rending, and insightful novel, i was captivated by Willa’s journey.

Amaze-a-loo, Tabitha Bird.

 

Read an Excerpt

++++++

Available from Penguin Au

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Review: The Accusation by Wendy James

 

Title: The Accusation

Author: Wendy James

Published: May 20th 2019, HarperCollins AU

Status: Read May 2019- courtesy HarperCollins/Netgalley

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My Thoughts:

The Accusation is author Wendy James’ contemporary take on the Canning Affair, an eighteenth-century criminal case that titillated the Victorian public, a compelling story of trust and betrayal, guilt and innocence.

Susannah Wells, a high school drama teacher, has been living with her mother in the small rural community of Enfield Wash for a just a few months. It’s a quiet life, her mothers dementia driven outbursts aside, in contrast with the years she spent as a young starlet on a popular TV soap.

Susannah, like the rest of the residents in Enfield Wash, expresses her shock when news breaks that a frail, bedraggled young woman has been found on the outskirts of town, claiming to have been abducted, drugged and chained to a bed for more than a month. When presented with the initial results of the police investigation, Ellie tearfully confirms the identity of her captors- Susannah Wells, and her mother, Mary.

Susannah vehemently denies the accusation, but with her arrest, her friends, even her closest friend, her colleagues, the townspeople, and the public at large, judge her guilty. Only her lover, Chip, is willing to believe in Susannah’s innocence, but even his faith begins to waiver as seemingly irrefutable evidence against Susannah builds.

If Susannah is innocent, why was evidence of Ellie’s ordeal found in her home? If Susannah is innocent, what possible motive could a stranger, especially a beautiful and bright young woman like Ellie, have to accuse her? If Susannah is innocent, who is guilty?

I raced through The Accusation, utterly engrossed by the question of Susannah’s guilt or innocence. James skilfully keeps the reader guessing, even while probing the possibilities of truth and deceit.

The story is structured in three parts, covering a period of about 12 months, for the most part progressing linearly, with the occasional slip backward and forward in time. Primarily the narrative unfolds from the perspectives of Susannah, and Honor, Ellie’s PR representative, with brief excerpts from a documentary produced about the case, after its resolution.

Of particular interest is the way in which James explores the role of ‘spin’ and social media in contributing to Ellie’s new found celebrity status, and Susannah’s public vilification. It’s an all too real scenario that demonstrates how easily the public can be manipulated, and how easily truth is dismissed.

The Accusation is provocative and gripping, a contemporary psychological thriller that should be moved to the top of your reading list.

Read an Excerpt

++++++

 

Available to purchase from HarperCollins AU

Or from your preferred retailer via Booko

Also reviewed at Book’d Out by Wendy James

Review: The Place on Dalhousie by Melina Marchetta

 

Title: The Place on Dalhousie

Author: Melina Marchetta

Published: April 2nd 2019, Viking

Status: Read April 2019, courtesy Penguin

++++++

 

My Thoughts:

If you are familiar with award winning author Melina Marchetta you will delight in revisiting familiar characters from Saving Francesca and The Piper’s Son in The Place on Dalhousie.

If you are not, you will be charmed by the characters you meet, and eager to devour Marchetta’s backlist when you have finished this wonderfully touching novel of home, family and friendship.

After Rosie Gennaro and Jimmy Hailler cross paths and enjoy a brief fling while travelling through Queensland, neither expect to see one another again, but fifteen months later, Jimmy learns Rosie has given birth to his son.

Rosie has reluctantly returned to the house on Dalhousie Street in Sydney, the home she once shared with her family, before her mother succumbed to cancer, before her father’s sudden death, but in which now her hated stepmother, Martha resides, to raise her son.

The house on Dalhousie is more than just a home to Rosie, it is all she has left of everything she has lost. As far as she is concerned Martha, despite being the legal owner of the house, is an interloper with no legitimate claim. The two live together as if strangers, Marta is no more fond of her sullen stepdaughter than Rosie is of her. Marchetta explores this complicated relationship, and it’s progression, thoughtfully.

Rosie is an abrasive character, consumed by anger, guilt and bitterness connected to her mother’s illness, her father’s remarriage, and his sudden death. I found it difficult to like her initially, she comes across as a self involved brat, but slowly, for the sake of her son, she begins to relax her defences. The author’s development of Rosie feels authentic, the change in her is gradual, and realistically limited.

Jimmy’s entry into the tense and awkward situation at the Dalhousie house is a catalyst to soften the enmity between Rosie and Martha. Having been abandoned by his own parents, Jimmy, though hesitant, is determined know his son and meet his responsibilities. I quickly grew very fond of Jimmy, who has had a difficult and far from blameless life, but who is decent and loyal. Jimmy’s friendships with his high school mates are his anchor, and give him support as he grapples with the uncertainty of his future.

For all the authenticity of Marchetta’s characters, and their stories, in The Place on Dalhousie there is the lightest touch of magical realism, a coincidence that closes a circle in a way that could have felt melodramatic, but instead felt right and true.

A beguiling story of loneliness and connection, of home, of family and friendship, of belonging, The Place on Dalhousie is a captivating novel, I was smiling so widely during the last chapter my cheeks hurt.

 

Read an Extract

++++++

 

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Review: 55 by James Delargy

 

Title: 55

Author: James Delargy

Published: May 1st 2019, Simon & Schuster

Status: Read April 2019- courtesy Simon & Schuster

 

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My Thoughts:

 

Having raced through the compelling story told by James Delargy in 55, I almost threw it against the wall when I read the last sentence (after double checking there were no pages missing).

“‘He wanted me to be number fifty-five,’ the man spluttered, looking Chandler squarely in the eye for the first time. He shivered and squeezed his eyes shut.”

On an ordinary morning in the remote Western Australian town of Wilbrook, a bruised and bloodied man stumbles into the police station with a horrifying story to tell. Identifying himself as Gabriel, he claims to have have been drugged while hitchhiking, waking to find himself chained to a wall in a small woodshed. His abductors name, Gabriel tells Sergeant Chandler Jenkins, is Heath, a short, stocky man with a deep tan, brown hair, a beard, probably about thirty years old.

Just a few hours later a local man marches a bruised and bloodied stranger into the police station at the end of his gun after being caught attempting to steal a car. It’s obvious to the Sergeant that this stranger is the man Gabriel described as his captor, and he moves to arrest him, but is stopped cold when Heath claims to have been drugged while hitchhiking, waking to find himself chained to a wall in a small woodshed. His abductors name, Heath tells Jenkins, is Gabriel, a tall, slim man with a deep tan, stubble chin and a soft voice.

“One of them, and only one of them was the true victim and the killer was piggy-backing their story. There was no other explanation.”

It is an intriguing and original hook, with both men claiming to be the victim of the other, and the possibility that as many as 54 more victims could be buried somewhere on the outskirts of town.

Single father Jenkins, and his small staff- young rookie Nick, the ambitious Luka, second in command, Tanya, and reliable Jim- are perhaps a little out of their depth in this situation. They make a few errors at the outset, which adds to the excitement, but one innocuous mistake in particular will come back to haunt the Sergeant.

Given the potential for the case to become a sensation, the investigation is quickly appropriated by Jenkins’ immediate boss, and former friend, Inspector Mitch Andrews. The last case the pair worked on together as rookies, involving a missing person, is recounted In a series of flashbacks, going someway to explaining the animosity between the two men.

Delargy’s main characters are well crafted and nuanced. Chandler’s easygoing nature contrasts with Mitch’s self-aggrandising behaviour, much in the same way that Gabriel appears to be the antithesis of Heath, yet as the story progresses,the author subtly develops details that adds depth to their characters.

The author maintains an effectively unsettling atmosphere through the novel, where the uncertainty, anxiety, and animosity experienced by, and between, the characters is underscored by the heat and isolation of the environment.

“On he drove through the undergrowth, pursuing the echo of his cries but never catching up. He pushed on harder because he was panicked and he pushed on harder because of the tears streaking down his face. He didn’t want anyone to see his hurt, immersing himself in the trees, dirt and despair…”

Delargy does an outstanding job of pacing in this novel. Tension ebbs and flows unpredictability as the plot twists and turns. I raced through the pages, finishing it in under three hours, desperate to learn the truth.

Oh, but that ending! I still can’t say I’m happy about it, but neither, it’s important to note, can I say that it was disappointment.

With an arresting premise, a riveting story, and a provocative conclusion, 55 is an impressive crime thriller debut novel from James Delargy.

++++++

Available to Purchase via

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Review: Blood River by Tony Cavanaugh

 

Title: Blood River

Author: Tony Cavanaugh

Published: April 23rd 2019, Hachette

Status: Read April 2019 – courtesy Hachette/Netgalley

++++++

My Thoughts:

Blood River is a discomforting yet compelling crime novel which unfolds over two decades from multiple perspectives.

It’s 1999 In Brisbane when “Lara, the youngest detective in the Squad, ever, a twentysomething Asian woman with dyed blonde hair and Billy, the oldest detective in the Squad, with the fiercest reputation in the state of Queensland, ever, an old school copper who would smash a suspect over the head, dangle him from a balcony or just forge a confession from him.” are called to the scene of a horrific murder.

Over a three week period, two more bodies are discovered with signature injuries, including the symbol of Taranus, the Celtic God of Thunder, carved into their flesh. Lara and Billy come up with three suspects, one of them Lara’s violent ex boyfriend, but under pressure from the media and officials, 17 year old Jennifer White is accused and eventually convicted of the three murders, despite the flimsiest of evidence.

Meanwhile, the real killer goes free.

“Fear is His word for man. Aoife is His word for woman. I am going to do it again. Another fear kill. I am going to do it again. Soon.”

Nineteen years later, Lara is the police commissioner, Billy has retired, and Jennifer, despite the objection of the state’s Attorney General, is finally paroled.

“There was also something else, something that had bothered me as I prepared to be paroled. I kept this to myself, my own private fear. That the real killer would take advantage of my release and kill again. I am no longer him. I am now his perfect alibi.”

Cavanaugh’s complex characters are fully realised portraits that add depth and interest to the story. Lara in particular is a fascinating personality with a rich backstory. What I also found of interest were the insights Cavanaugh offers into some of the characters who could be said to be only tangentially related to the main thrust of the plot, but nevertheless less impact it, or the main characters, in significant ways.

The shifts in narrative perspective are stimulating, moving between an omniscient viewpoint and individual characters. It can be difficult, on occasion, to immediately identify each ‘voice’, though I think that may have been in large part because of the poor formatting of my advance reader copy.

Blood River is quite different from Cavanaugh’s series featuring Darian Richards, which I loved, though they do share some similar themes, such as police corruption, women in policing, and the failings of the justice system.

With a final reveal I didn’t see coming at all (a rare event I must note), Blood River is a clever, gritty and engrossing story. This is another impressive crime novel from Australian author, Tony Cavanaugh.

Read an Excerpt

++++++

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Also by Tony Cavanaugh on Book’d Out

Review: The Lost Girls by Jennifer Spence

Title: The Lost Girls

Author: Jennifer Spence

Published: Simon & Schuster January 2019

Status: Read April 2019, courtesy Simon & Schuster Au

++++++

 

My Thoughts:

 

I had made some assumptions about this novel, based mostly on the cover and title. I was expecting a fairly standard novel of mystery involving a missing girl or two, but what I discovered was a compelling and unique story using one of my least favourite tropes – time travel.

It is 2017 and sixty three year old Stella Lannigan is making her way home from a night out when she realises that her surroundings seem somehow changed. Baffled, she wonders if she absentmindedly took a wrong turn, but the landmarks are familiar, just not quite… right. Stella slowly realises that she has inexplicably stepped into the past, it is 1997, and as she stands outside her former home, she watches her forty three year old self step out of the front door.

What would you do if you had the chance to change a moment from your past, to rewrite your history, and avoid inevitable tragedy? Stella knows she will do whatever she must to subvert her daughter’s fate.

The concept of time travel is, as I have said, one of my least favourite devices in film and literature. It’s either presented in a too simplistic, or convoluted, manner. In The Lost Girls, Spence uses it in a way that made sense to me. As Stella insinuates herself into her family, posing as her own long last aunt, she subtly attempts to manipulate the future, but destiny, it seems, is not as malleable as it may appear.

There is also a traditional mystery, with a missing girl at it’s heart, which is central to the story.

I’m loathe to say much more, lest I inadvertently spoil your own future reading of this novel . Suffice it to say, The Lost Girls is a poignant, intriguing ,and captivating read I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend.

 

+++++

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Review: The Dry by Jane Harper

Title: The Dry {Aaron Falk #1}

Author: Jane Harper

Published: Macmillan, May 2016

Status: Read March 2019

 

My Thoughts:

Credited with sparking new interest in Australian rural crime novels, The Dry was published in 2016 to international acclaim, winning multiple awards, with the movie adaptation, to star Eric Bana, currently in production. 

After a twenty year absence, Aaron Falk reluctantly returns to his hometown, the small drought stricken community of Kiewarra, to attend the funeral of his childhood best friend, Luke Hadler, accused of slaughtering his wife and daughter, before turning the gun on himself. Falk is now with the Federal Police, investigating financial crime, and at the request of Luke’s parents, who are desperate to find an alternative answer to such a heinous crime, agrees to go over the farm’s business records. While the accounts prove to be fairly straightforward, it is inconsistencies in the details of the crime that bother Falk.

The Dry is an atmospheric novel, evoking the dusty desperation of small farming towns struggling with drought and the myriad of consequences it has both economically and socially. Tempers are short, attitudes are anxious, and secrets fester In the heat.

The mystery at the heart of The Dry is well plotted, and revealed at an even pace. Harper effectively builds and maintains tension, even where the past and present intersect. I admit to being a little piqued by one thread of the story that was resolved but felt unfinished.

Guilt is is a major motivation for Falk’s investigation. His real reluctance to return to Kiewarra stems from the tragic drowning of another childhood friend, in whose death Aaron, and his father, were unfairly implicated. Driven out of town by the victim’s father, a vindictive bully and drunk, the community is no more welcoming on his return. It makes for an interesting character, struggling with both interior and exterior conflicts.

The supporting characters are well drawn, though perhaps not terribly nuanced. It’s actually the absent characters, Luke and Ellie, that are the most dynamic.

An impressive debut, I found The Dry to be an evocative and compelling crime novel. I am looking forward to reading the second book featuring Falk, Force of Nature.

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The Dry is available from Macmillan Australia 

or your preferred retailer.

Read an Excerpt

Review: Darkest Place by Jaye Ford

 

Title: Darkest Place

Author: Jaye Ford

Published: Random House Feb 2016

Read an Extract

Status: Read on February 08, 2016 — I own a copy  {Courtesy the publisher/Netgalley}

My Thoughts:

I should have known better, being familiar with Jaye Ford’s previous novels. I picked up Darkest Place at 2am to read a few pages before bed and didn’t put it down til I finished the last page, just minutes before my husband’s alarm woke him for work at 5am.

After enduring years of guilt, heartbreak, and regret, Charlotte Townsend has finally found the strength to leave her past behind. In a new town, with a new apartment, and a new name, Carly has enrolled in college and is looking towards her future, but three days into her new life she wakes to find a stranger in her bedroom. When the police answer Carly’s call for help, they find no sign of the man and assure her it was likely a crime of opportunity. Though shaken by the intrusion Carly refuses to let the incident destroy her fledgling confidence…until then it happens again, and then again.

Darkest Place is an absorbing tale of psychological suspense. The tension builds slowly, gathering momentum until you realise you are holding your breath in anxious anticipation.

“She wants to scream. It’s building in her chest. Trapped there, scratching at her lungs as though her ribs are the bars holding it back. She hears breathing. Not her own. Deep and unhurried. It whispers across her face like a warm cloth. It turns her skin to ice. She lashes out. Hits, twists, kicks. She sees it in her mind, feels it in her muscles. But it doesn’t happen. She doesn’t move. Neither does he. She sees him now. A shape in the darkness. Above her, black and motionless. He is watching. She watches back. Fear roaring through her bones, pulse thumping in her ears. Her voice is wedged in her throat now and choking her. No. Something else is squeezing, pushing down, making blood pound in her face. Warm hand, hard fingers. She doesn’t want to see. Doesn’t want to feel. She shuts her eyes. Waits. “

Carly is a complex character, and given her emotionally fragility, I was never quite sure if I could trust her perception of events as the story progressed. The police certainly have their doubts about the reliability of her reports, and Carly’s psychiatrist offers a rational opinion that could explain her experiences, but I was sympathetic to her distress.

“She caught sight of herself in the mirror. Hair a mess, face tear-stained. Dark-ringed, pale, wild-eyed. And she spun away, the image burned onto her retinas. Distraught, panicked, confused. She looked like Charlotte. No, worse than that. She looked crazy.”

I have to admit I was ambivalent about the ending, though it works within the context of character and story, I didn’t find it wholly satisfying, though I can’t really reveal why I feel that way without the risk of spoilers. Nevertheless, there is closure and a sense of triumph and hope.

Darkest Place is Ford’s fifth novel and I would say her best to date. Clever, thrilling and gripping.

Available to purchase from

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Also by Jaye Ford reviewed at Book’d Out


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