Gregory Harris

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The Rowe family would probably have argued that the birth of their second son with severe visual and mental impairments didn't constitute a tragedy. Indeed, the efforts of parents Bob and Mary Rowe to raise and educate their son Christopher garnered great admiration among their friends and neighbors. But tragedy overtook the Rowes in February 1978.

That year, Bob Rowe murdered his wife and three children. After an unsuccessful and perhaps halfhearted suicide attempt, the New York lawyer was found not guilty by reason of insanity. Even the prosecution's psychiatrist expressed no doubt that Rowe was mentally ill at the time of the murders. Now journalist Julie Salamon recounts the tragedy and its aftermath in Facing the Wind, a true-crime narrative of extraordinary breadth and compassion. Salamon dwells not on the details of the murder but on the events that led to Bob Rowe's psychosis and those that followed, in which Rowe, heartsick over his deed but sure in his heart that he was not responsible, attempted to pick up the pieces of his life. Salamon tells the story of many remarkable people, among them a devoutly religious young woman named Colleen who met Rowe after his release from a mental institution. Burdened by her own secrets, she was able to see Rowe for who he was and not what he did. Eventually, she married him and bore him a daughter.

Salamon never met Rowe, but the picture of him she assembles from court documents, letters, journals and interviews is of an intelligent, charming and ambitious man whose belief that he was not responsible for the lives he took led to an eight-year quest to regain his law license. Rowe's insistence on living his life when his family lay dead by his hand is seen as an affront by some. But the reader is left with the impression never explicit that in the dark of night, Rowe had trouble forgiving himself for what he did.

Facing the Wind never disintegrates into a lurid tale of a sensational murder. Sensitive, moving and disturbing, it is a masterful work of journalism.

Gregory Harris is a writer and editor living in Indianapolis.

The Rowe family would probably have argued that the birth of their second son with severe visual and mental impairments didn't constitute a tragedy. Indeed, the efforts of parents Bob and Mary Rowe to raise and educate their son Christopher garnered great admiration among their friends and neighbors. But tragedy overtook the Rowes in February […]
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In 1846, a small group of settlers who flocked to golden California to seek their fortunes met disaster instead. While the westward trek bore many hazards that claimed their share of lives, the group known as the Donner Party has become synonymous with a doom brought on by ill fate and ill planning—doom, and a fate more gruesome than death. Trapped in remote mountains by paralyzing blizzards and desperately short of supplies, some of the group resorted to cannibalism to survive.

Now the story of that perilous journey is retold in James D. Houston's sensitive, moving and compassionate novel, Snow Mountain Passage. Houston's prose vividly recalls the settlers who banded together to trek across the empty plains, and who would wind up depending on each other for survival. Houston tells the story from two perspectives the experiences of James Frazier Reed, who traveled with the Donner Party along with his wife and children, and the recollections of his daughter, Patty, as an elderly woman. Houston skillfully weaves the two timelines and perspectives he tells Reed's story as events unfold, but presents Patty's memories 50 years after the fact. Reed's experiences on the trail serve as a metaphor for the entire settler experience. Enthralled by the prose of a self-appointed prophet of westward migration, he leaves in search of better land and a healthier climate for his ailing wife. Forced to defend himself when a trailside argument turns violent, Reed learns that frontier justice is different from his civilized expectations, and he is expelled from the party. Riding ahead, he becomes the party's only hope when he crosses the mountains just ahead of the storm.

Having encountered former traveling companion Charles Stanton heading with supplies to the party's relief, Reed believes they are safe. But as Patty recalls, the small group of rescuers arrives only as more savage weather engenders an equally savage struggle for survival.

Houston reveals the tragic consequences arising from a combination of prosaic decisions, such as which fork of a trail to take and the unpredictable nature of the elements. In this notable book, the reader shares the lives and experiences of a group which has become a tragic footnote in history.

Gregory Harris is a writer and editor in Indianapolis.

 

In 1846, a small group of settlers who flocked to golden California to seek their fortunes met disaster instead. While the westward trek bore many hazards that claimed their share of lives, the group known as the Donner Party has become synonymous with a doom brought on by ill fate and ill planning—doom, and a […]
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Emily Jenkins had every reason to distrust the electrical crews building their massive steel high-tension towers on a right-of-way purchased from her family's mountain farm. She suspected that the company got her family's land for less than they should have paid. Her father and brother had been killed in a mine explosion all too common in the West Virginia of the 1920s and she and her mother needed the money. Even worse, a tentative friendship she struck up with a handsome company executive had taken a very wrong turn. So it was with great suspicion that she greeted a crew of linemen bearing a severely injured comrade who plummeted from a tower one stormy evening.

Much to her surprise, though, the arrival of this stranger proves to be a turning point in Emily's life. Her story is told in captivating fashion in Lick Creek, a noteworthy debut novel by Brad Kessler. Already an award-winning children's author, Kessler masterfully expands his range by weaving the story of Emily's young womanhood with the experiences of Joseph, a Russian Jewish immigrant who discovers magic in the wires lacing the big cities. Lick Creek conjures the mystery and tranquility of the deep West Virginia mountains, an area so remote that the continent's second-oldest river was dubbed the "New" because the gorge through which it flows lay unexplored for so long. Kessler relates the hazards of coal mining in the offhand manner in which the miners accept the risks, so that when dozens of lives end with a blast that reverberates throughout the valley, it comes as a shock but not a surprise. Kessler draws the reader eagerly toward a conclusion reminiscent of the great novel Cold Mountain, in which the events of decades past are connected with people living decades later. This superb first novel adds to the laurels Kessler has received for his children's books.

Gregory Harris is a writer and editor in Indianapolis who enjoys whitewater rafting on West Virginia's New River.

 

Emily Jenkins had every reason to distrust the electrical crews building their massive steel high-tension towers on a right-of-way purchased from her family's mountain farm. She suspected that the company got her family's land for less than they should have paid. Her father and brother had been killed in a mine explosion all too common […]
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Like the vampire, lovers of horror tales have appetites that can't always be sated with a single offering. Anthologies are a natural home for the terror tale, from creature-feature film festivals to the bloody pulp stories of the fabled EC Comics to chilling short story collections by the likes of Poe, Lovecraft, and others. In that spirit, prepare for a trio of terrible tomes that dish up a steaming stew of screams, just in time for Halloween.

Julie Myerson's Laura Blundy invokes the Victorian age—when penny novelettes brought a chill to cozy reading rooms and carriage windows barely screened the stench of decay in the gaslit streets. In this startling and engrossing book, the title character recounts in a matter-of-fact, almost detached manner, the many shocking events in her young life. After the sudden death of her storekeeper father, Laura becomes a homeless orphan. As one of London's invisible underclass, she is raped by one of her social betters, and circumstances force her to give the child she bears to an orphanage. Struck by a carriage while wandering the filthy streets, Laura is confined to a hospital bed, where infection forces the amputation of one of her legs by a charming young surgeon. Laura Blundy is replete with imagery that brings shudders even as it fascinates. Visions of a hanged murderess, dead children, and an operating theater that resembles a torture chamber bombard but never overwhelm the reader's senses. As Laura reveals the events of her life in candid yet disjointed fashion, the reader is led to believe she harbors a depravity of her own, but that conclusion fails to herald the final revelations in this fascinating tale.

The horror in Anne Rice's Merrick occurs on an entirely different level, but is no less sensual and terrible. Returning once again to the mystery-shrouded streets of New Orleans, Rice continues her saga of the vampires Louis and Lestat, and of David Talbot, the narrator of the story who grew to old age and then became a vampire in the body of a younger man. Into this world steps Merrick Mayfair, distantly related to Rice's Mayfair Witches and a powerful psychic and magician in her own right. In her inimitable, beautiful prose, Rice relates Merrick's youth and education, the spirits that haunt her, and her relationship with David Talbot as man and vampire. The story opens with a meeting between Talbot and Merrick, the first in 20 years and the first since Talbot's own transformation into a vampire. Talbot calls on Merrick to raise the spirit of Claudia, the child vampire from Rice's first vampire novel, for Louis, who feels haunted by her. Talbot goes into the meeting wary of the consequences of raising ghosts, and deeply aware of the temptation of giving the gift and curse of vampirism. The desires of vampires, of the scholarly society into which Merrick was recruited by Talbot while he was still a mortal man, and of Merrick herself mingle and lead to sometimes startling developments.Readers familiar with Rice's intricate world will be thrilled at the interactions between some of her greatest creations. Those experiencing Rice's work for the first time will find the rich detail imparts more than enough background to ensure deep involvement in the intriguing story.

Joining the grand tradition of horror anthologies is a new offering of supernatural stories edited by poet Roger Weingarten. Ghost Writing brings together 21 haunted tales by such acclaimed modern writers as Peter Straub and John Updike, who contributes the tale of a New England town and the ageless Indian who has taken part in town life seemingly since its founding. In other stories, the spirit world on the other side of a mirror offers haven for the spirit of an abused wife, and a trio of boys have their favorite prank interrupted by the ghost left behind by those who build roads. In Weingarten's own contribution, a ghost clarifies a family curse.

Each of these books reminds us that a good scare can come from the sight of blood or the knowledge that blood, or something more sinister, lies unseen beneath the skin.

Gregory Harris is a writer and editor in Indianapolis with a vast book, music, and video collection that includes many horror titles.

 

Like the vampire, lovers of horror tales have appetites that can't always be sated with a single offering. Anthologies are a natural home for the terror tale, from creature-feature film festivals to the bloody pulp stories of the fabled EC Comics to chilling short story collections by the likes of Poe, Lovecraft, and others. In […]
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Tony Earley's remarkable debut novel, Jim the Boy, has been eagerly anticipated since excerpts appeared in Granta, The Oxford American, and The New Yorker's 1999 summer fiction issue, which declared Earley one of 20 notable writers embodying the future of American fiction. The full novel surpasses even that promise; this talented new novelist has crafted a work of depth, sensitivity, poise, and power.

Set in Depression-era North Carolina, the novel chronicles the title character's coming of age. Young Jim Glass' father and namesake died suddenly just before the boy's birth. Raised by his mother and three bachelor uncles, ever aware of the specter of his absent father, the boy becomes a sturdy and thoughtful lad. The novel begins with Jim's 10th birthday, and the following year of his life is remarkable in several ways. The county opens a new school, which Jim and others from town must share with children from the mountain. An initial rivalry with the leader of the mountain boys develops into a firm friendship that's jeopardized as Jim confronts the threat of polio. The young man also leaves the environs of his home for the first time, traveling with one of his uncles out of the state to negotiate for a pair of prized Belgian horses. Lurking in the background is the specter of Jim's grandfather, a formidable moonshiner whom Jim's father defied by leaving the mountain and marrying Jim's mother on her lowland farm. Just as the nearby mountain is always present on the valley's horizon, the image of Jim's grandfather lurks like an ogre in the boy's consciousness; a journey with the intent to confront the old man frames the book's climax.

Earley departs from his central narrative in several places, providing background on Jim's family by quoting letters and presenting several vignettes that capture the hardship and beauty of life on the family farm. Throughout the book, the writer snares those few crucial moments in which Jim realizes the majesty of life and the love of his family. He also notes tantalizing instances when the boy realizes such a moment has passed too late to fully appreciate it. Earley crafts his novel in a style reminiscent of Shaker furniture; it is lean and lacks unnecessary adornment, yet possesses a spare and harmonious beauty. This superb debut novel speaks to readers in words that recur long after they finish turning the pages.

Gregory Harris is a writer and editor in Indianapolis.

Tony Earley's remarkable debut novel, Jim the Boy, has been eagerly anticipated since excerpts appeared in Granta, The Oxford American, and The New Yorker's 1999 summer fiction issue, which declared Earley one of 20 notable writers embodying the future of American fiction. The full novel surpasses even that promise; this talented new novelist has crafted […]
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In the turbulent early days of revolutionary Russia, Bolshevik agents herded the deposed Tsar Nicholai II, his family and aides into the basement of a Siberian house and executed them all in a blaze of gunfire. Details of what happened that fateful night have taken decades to emerge, reaching a terrible climax with the 1991 excavation of a mass grave believed to be the one in which some of the members of the Romanov family were buried.

Writer Robert Alexander, a fluent Russian speaker who studied in Leningrad, became fascinated with an obscure reference in the Empress Alexandra's personal journal shortly before her death, noting that their kitchen boy had been sent away. This brief reference from a forgotten 1918 diary took root in Alexander's imagination and, after much research, blossomed as his new novel The Kitchen Boy. This intriguing work of speculative historical fiction recreates the last days of the tsar through the eyes of the young Leonka, who recalls how he secretly returned to the Siberian house that served as the Romanovs' prison and witnessed their execution.

The novel successfully maintains an intense atmo-sphere of peril and suspense despite the reader's foreknowledge of the Romanovs' fate. The calamity is heightened by the fierce, almost primal protectiveness the parents showed toward their children who nevertheless would die with them—invoking compassion for the royal family as people rather than dusty national symbols. Despite the sympathetic portrayal of the tsar and his family, Alexander doesn't ignore the judgment of history. As Leonka notes, however well-intentioned Nicholai and his empress may have been, their rule over Russia was a legacy of war, revolution, corruption and oppression. But the thuggish Bolshevik revolutionaries fare no better under the novel's scrutiny.

The Kitchen Boy is a fascinating and suspenseful glimpse of a tempestuous but shadowy period in Russian history. It's also a moving portrait of a family that, despite their legendary role in world events, proved in the end to be as mortal as the rest of us.

Gregory Harris is a writer, editor and technology consultant in Indianapolis.

In the turbulent early days of revolutionary Russia, Bolshevik agents herded the deposed Tsar Nicholai II, his family and aides into the basement of a Siberian house and executed them all in a blaze of gunfire. Details of what happened that fateful night have taken decades to emerge, reaching a terrible climax with the 1991 […]
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Taking its name in part from his friends' answer to surfing swimming off an abandoned dock on the shores of Lake Michigan Rich Cohen's new memoir Lake Effect is a timeless coming-of-age tale set in the 1980s. Raised on Chicago's Great Lakes, he and his friends do the usual: hang out, drink beer, sneak into the city to hear the blues and hold long, intense conversations about their dreams and ambitions. But what makes this story different is Cohen's skill at capturing, as he puts it, the thrill of a certain kind of friendship and what happens to such friendships when the afternoon runs into the evening. Growing up in a decade remembered for New Wave, full-tilt capitalism and Ronald Reagan, Cohen and his high school buddies all bring different elements to their circle, but it's the mercurial Jamie Drew, known as Drew-licious, who is the catalyst behind many activities. Jamie is a leader who maintains an aloofness, the detachment of a point man scouting enemy territory, and despite their evident closeness, his inner life seems to remain a tantalizing mystery to the author. Yet Cohen is unabashed in his admiration for Jamie, who often walked paths he never tread himself.

There is a melancholy to their friendship, as time passes and their lives diverge. Cohen heads for Tulane University in New Orleans and a career as a successful writer. From the French Quarter to the Big Apple, where he writes for the esteemed New Yorker, Cohen realizes his dream of working as a journalist, while some of his friends seem to drop out of life. His eventual alienation from Jamie, which parallels the decisions all adults make as they leave childhood behind, will resonate with readers. Jobs, school, relationships and responsibilities inevitably come between Cohen and Jamie. Occasional reunions, while joyful, also carry a reminder of how much time has passed. A universal story of youth, maturity and love, Lake Effect is a probing meditation on the passage of time, an accomplished book filled with the humorous antics of teenagers in suburbia.

Gregory Harris is a writer, editor and IT consultant in Indianapolis.

Taking its name in part from his friends' answer to surfing swimming off an abandoned dock on the shores of Lake Michigan Rich Cohen's new memoir Lake Effect is a timeless coming-of-age tale set in the 1980s. Raised on Chicago's Great Lakes, he and his friends do the usual: hang out, drink beer, sneak into […]
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Writer and magician Glen David Gold has accomplished a supernatural feat of literary sleight of hand. His first novel, Carter Beats the Devil, is a marvelous work that portrays a performer and an era with a sense of wonder and mystery.

Set in the 1920s, Gold's story follows the career of Charles Carter, a rich man's son who becomes fascinated with the world of magic. Turning his back on a lucrative financial career, Carter embarks on a vaudeville tour as a second-tier magician. His big break comes, however, and soon he's calling himself Carter the Great, dazzling audiences with complex illusions. The famous magician gains unwanted attention when President Warren G. Harding dies the night he attends one of Carter's performances.

The challenges to Carter's resolve and professional abilities in the wake of Harding's death form the basis of this engaging tale. Gold skillfully brings the reader onstage during a magician's performance, but, like a seasoned conjurer, never reveals how the tricks are done, dazzling instead with descriptions of the feats themselves. Magicians at the time were as much technicians as skilled performers, and Gold gives tantalizing glimpses of the complex mechanisms that Carter uses in his extravaganza. Gold's story is even more astonishing because Carter himself is a historical figure. The writer blends the factual details of the once-celebrated magician's life—he did indeed perform an illusion called "Carter Beats the Devil"with events imaginative and speculative in an impressive feat of literary legerdemain. The book's cover is one of Carter's actual promotional posters, and Harry Houdini, by far the most famous magician of the age, also makes a cameo appearance. But it is Carter who takes center stage, and he proves to be an intensely fascinating character.

An absorbing first novel, Carter Beats the Devil is a wondrous work. From its bravura beginning to its riveting climax, Gold's novel defies the reader to perform the trick of putting the book down.

Gregory Harris is a writer and editor in Indianapolis.

 

Writer and magician Glen David Gold has accomplished a supernatural feat of literary sleight of hand. His first novel, Carter Beats the Devil, is a marvelous work that portrays a performer and an era with a sense of wonder and mystery.

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Wizards are typically portrayed as mysterious and secretive beings, but readers now have a chance to enter their enchanted world. With Tom Cross' The Way of Wizards, the curious can embark on a magical journey led by the author's alter ego, an apprentice mage named Penelo.

Lavishly illustrated, The Way of Wizards is a full-color, large-format book that uses more than 200 illustrations to depict the fantastical world of wizards. Penelo, as narrator, describes everything from a wizard's garb to elemental sources of power to the enchanted places that are a wizard's realm. At times, the book resembles a tome from a wizard's library.

Wizards is a project Cross began nearly 20 years ago, at a time when books on otherworldly creatures like gnomes and fairies were wildly popular. "We had pursued the idea of doing a wizards book, and then as things go, they said the market went soft,' he explains. Cross, a noted ecologist and artist whose work has been exhibited in galleries from Florida to Japan, continued to produce magically themed art until wizardry caught the public's imagination again, in part due to the phenomenal popularity of J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter series. Cross believes that other factors also led to the resurgence of interest in magic.

"Fantasy seems to be an outlet during good times and a safe harbor during poor times."

"Fantasy seems to be an outlet during good times and a safe harbor during poor times,"  he says, noting that Lord of the Rings author J.R.R. Tolkien wrote much of his Middle Earth saga during the 1930s and '40s times of worldwide turbulence. As he researched wizards and mages for his book, Cross noted a recurring theme of harmony with nature that resonated with his background as a coastal ecologist. "A lot of what's in this book is researched folklore,"  he explains, "and every culture has its take on nature's phenomenon that couldn't be explained, and they almost always point their finger at a gnome or a fairy or a shaman or a witch doctor or a medicine man. If you think about it, every culture has wizards, whatever they call them. It's usually been the guy or the woman who was most in tune with nature."

In striving to synthesize magical legends from many cultures, Cross accessed material through the Internet, which jibed with his vision of the magical tome. "I had a very wild hair about the book basically being the material version of the real thing, a two-dimensional version of what's real,"  he said. What would a real wizard's book consist of? "It'd be hypertext, interactive, click here, click there, every word takes you somewhere, every image takes you somewhere. The Web is probably the best manifestation we have of what wizardly communication really would be."

Just as a wizard combines elements for a spell or potion, Cross blended ancient technique and modern technology to produce the images in his book. "The book is a very interesting evolution of technique, he explains. "The early stuff and particularly the things that are on the old book pages are handwritten or pencil and watercolor, and the major art pieces are all digitally done. So I pretty much have evolved as technology has allowed me to. Cross wrote some of the text in a page layout program that let him combine words with images and manipulate their appearance.

"It was neat. The page, the spread, became my palette, he said. "It was a bit of wizardry in that sense.

Gregory Harris is a writer and computer consultant in Indianapolis.

 

Wizards are typically portrayed as mysterious and secretive beings, but readers now have a chance to enter their enchanted world. With Tom Cross' The Way of Wizards, the curious can embark on a magical journey led by the author's alter ego, an apprentice mage named Penelo. Lavishly illustrated, The Way of Wizards is a full-color, […]
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Listeners of National Public Radio are familiar with Noah Adams' rich, evenly paced voice from his tenure as co-host of All Things Considered. Now readers have an opportunity to discover Adams' other voice—equally self-assured, moderate and mellifluous—in his new book, Far Appalachia.

The work chronicles Adams' nearly yearlong personal journey into the heart of one of the oldest river valleys on the North American continent. Following the entire course of the New River from its origins on a remote hilltop in North Carolina to its mouth in West Virginia, he discovers along the way an old-fashioned stretch of America where the pace is easier.

"It's the clean air and the quietness out there that I like," Adams said in a recent phone interview. "I could easily live there . . . in North Carolina or Virginia. You sort of don't even notice until you drive four hours and you get out of your car and you say, 'Where's the noise?'"

Adams doesn't merely explore the modern New River in the pages of his book; he recalls the region's history from its frontier origins to its industrial past. Although he presents the story in a linear narrative, the book is, as he notes in his prologue, the culmination of 11 months of short explorations. Part of his goal, Adams said, was to acquaint readers with a part of the country they may know little about and to encourage them to visit. "Appalachia itself is such a huge subject that I've wanted to write about it for years," Adams admits, "but I couldn't find a way until I figured, well, here's a little way to do it. You can write a smaller book, and it's got a narrative and people know where it's going to end."

Adams said choosing a single place in the region to recommend would be difficult. "But I love Snake Mountain in North Carolina, and nobody goes there. It's such a beautiful, beautiful place," he said. "That's someplace people wouldn't think to go, and Ashe County is a lovely place to visit. I would have never gotten there had it not been for this book, and it's just a treasure."

Far Appalachia climaxes with the author braving the rapids of the Lower New with a group of whitewater rafters. Adams captures the experience of the foaming, thundering surges in remarkable detail. This feat is particularly impressive given that he had no prior experience rafting. Capturing the experience was a challenge, Adams admits. "You really are in deeper holes than you would appear to be from the bank," he said. "You just don't see that from the bank. And all of a sudden, man, there's that wall of water that's way over your head. And you don't appreciate that when you're sitting there on a rock someplace watching the rafters come down the rapids."

In addition, the seasoned journalist found himself unable to use one of the time-honored tools of his trade. "The situation in a boat," Adams said, means "you can't be writing notes, so I would have a microcassette recorder in a little waterproof bag and then wander away from the lunch crowd and just get a few things down and then try to find time that night to sit for about an hour and make notes."

Adams said he enjoys writing as a break from his radio duties but is not currently working on another book. "I always like to have something else going, but I think I'll try a few magazine pieces and just not worry about it and wait until a book demands to be written."

Whether working on books or his radio program, Adams said he keeps in mind a quote from producer-director James L. Brooks: "Ease is always an illusion.""When I do a radio story, and I've been satisfied with only a few over the years, and I hear it, and it sounds so simple, I think, How could it have been that much work?" Adams said. "That's when I know it was a good piece."

Gregory Harris is a writer and editor who lives in Indianapolis.

Listeners of National Public Radio are familiar with Noah Adams' rich, evenly paced voice from his tenure as co-host of All Things Considered. Now readers have an opportunity to discover Adams' other voice—equally self-assured, moderate and mellifluous—in his new book, Far Appalachia. The work chronicles Adams' nearly yearlong personal journey into the heart of one […]

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