Sudden Mischief  
Series Spenser
Publisher G.P. Putnam's Sons
Publication date 1998
Media type hardcover
ISBN 0-390-399-14370-X
Preceded by Small Vices
Followed by Hush Money

Cover InformationEdit

For Joan: Gloriana

From the hardcover edition:

"In Sudden Mischief, Parker's stouthearted hero unwillingly takes a case that tests his sleuthing skills--and his commitment to the woman he loves.

Brad Sterling--former Harvard football player, ne'er-do-well, and Susan Silverman's long-out-of-touch ex-husband--is, by all appearances, a successful business man. But when he is charged with sexual harassment in the course of running a vast fundraiser called Galapalooza, he turns to Susan for help. Though Brad denies the charge he's desperate, behind in alimony and child support to other exes, and on the verge of dissolution. When Spenser reluctantly agrees to the case, he finds Brad denies everything. Sterling claims everything is fine--he is free of debt and free of problems.

While the harassment charge begins to look more and more specious, Spenser begins to sense there is something wrong with Galapalooza, when leads to charities turn into dead ends. Susan, meanwhile, becomes steadily more problematic as she wrestles with demons reinvigorated by the resurrection of her ex-husband. As the questions mount, Brad disappears, a body is found, and a shadowy mob connection begins to coalesce. Spenser finds himself fighting a two-front war: against some very bad men on one hand, and an increasingly difficult Susan, struggling with her own resurrection, on the other.

Dark, contemplative, and morally complex, Sudden Mischief is a brilliant meditation on the meaning of justice, love, and passion.

Recurring CharactersEdit

  • Susan Silverman gets the ball rolling by asking Spenser to look into things for her ex-husband, and has a lot of trouble dealing with it. We learn much about her past.
  • Pearl the Wonder Dog, free spirit, and her faithful companion, a couch cushion.
  • Hawk, who always likes to help out a friend.
  • Rita Fiore. Spenser asks her about the lawyer, Francis Ronan.
  • Lila, across the hallway from Spenser's office. He likes to keep track of her costumes.
  • Rachel Wallace, who "explained her theory on why Susan was behaving as she was."

Joel Zimmerman noticed that I overlooked Rachel here, and sent the above. Thanks dude.

  • Henry Cimoli, looking "like a pint and a half of muscle stuffed into a pint shirt."
  • Captain Quirk (I loved typing that as much as Parker enjoyed giving him a promotion in the last book.)
  • Dr. Hilliard, Susan's psychotherapist (A Catskill Eagle). Susan calls for help in understanding her feelings.
  • Lee Farrell comes over after Susan and Spenser subdue a couple of bad guys. He is already aware of why Spenser is not telling the whole story to the local cops.
  • Tony Marcus, always glad to help out if it might mean a profit for him.
  • Two new characters, Ty-bop and Junior, are introduced as part of Tony's entourage.
  • Iain Campbell noted two characters mentioned but not in the book
  • Russell Costigan casts a long shadow over much of the plot.
  • Linda Thomas is remembered once again. Last seen in Valediction (1984) she is a milestone in his life that will never erode completely.

Unanswered QuestionsEdit

  • I'm still trying to reconcile the picture of Brad Sterling. Everyone, including Susan knows better than to loan him any money. Yet the underpinnings of the earlier books was that Susan could afford to live a good life, and pay for her courses leading to a Doctorate, because of his generous and timely alimony payments.
  • In Chapter 27 Spenser agrees to meet Rita Fiore at the Boston Harbor Hotel for a drink at five o'clock. Parker never mentions it again and goes right on with the story. Why an obvious setup with no payoff? I ask this in retrospect because the next time we see Rita in Widow's Walk she mentions a relationship with a banker that doesn't appear in any of the books. Was a chapter lost on the way to the printer? Did Parker forget to write it but thought he did?

Literary References, or "The Annotated Gumshoe"Edit

Significance of the dedication: Gloriana is the title character in The Faerie Queene by Edmund Spenser, a poet who spells his name with an "s" like the Boston Gumshoe.

Significance of the title: Fortunately it's right there in the book: "Be well aware,"quoth then that Ladie milde, / Least suddaine mischiefe ye too rash provoke" -The Faerie Queene

Chapter 1:

  • "Had there been a turtledove awake at this hour we'd have almost certainly heard his voice." - Spenser is considering the springtime, so I'd have to go with The Song Of Solomon 2:11-12 "...for now the winter is past, the rain is over and gone. The flowers appear on the earth; the time of singing has come, and the voice of the turtledove is heard in our land."

Chapter 2:

  • "A hard man is good to find." - I missed this one but Simone Hochreiter pointed it out. Brad is acknowledging a humorous rephrasing of "A good man is hard to find. See Oft Quoted and Lyrics

Chapter 5:

  • "If a tree falls in the forest..." - and there's no one around to hear it, does it make a sound? One of those tiresome philosophical questions. The answer is yes. Deal with it. See Oft Quoted

Chapter 11:

  • "A foolish the hobgoblin of little minds." - Hawk has slightly reworded a line from Self Reliance by Ralph Waldo Emerson.

Chapter 16:

  • "By golly, Miss Molly." - Iain Campbell reminded me to include this. Little Richard had a hit with "Good Golly, Miss Molly" in 1957. See Lyrics

Chapter 17:

  • "A detective travels on his stomach." - Another hit for Iain. Napoleon famously said that "an army travels on its stomach," and he held a contest for someone to come up with a method of keeping food fresh for shipment to his distant troops. The winner came up with a method of boiling food and packing it in wine bottles, the first "Meals, Ready to Eat."

Chapter 19:

  • "So many assholes, so little time." - I missed it but Simone Hochreiter was sure Parker had used this before. Good call; there is an in-depth discussion in Stardust, Chapter 1.

Chapter 23:

  • "I was the very model of a modern major shamus." - Iain pointed me to this one too. Gilbert and Sullivan, The Pirates of Penzance, A Modern Major General. See Lyrics

" was only a temporary contrivance." - Hmm. The only hit I got on this was from The Progress of Science (1887) by Thomas Henry Huxley. He was explaining that the concept of "chemical bonds" would be discredited once we understood whatever was actually happening.

Chapter 25:

  • "Farnham's" - J. T. Farnham's is on route 133 in Essex, which sits between the more widely known towns of Ipswich and Gloucester. I found a review of the place at
  • Our ancestors sure did have a case of Anglo envy. For those keeping score at home, the above three towns are in Essex County, Massachusetts. In the jolly old United Kingdom Essex is in Essex County, Gloucester is in Gloucester County, and Ipswich is in Suffolk County, which we moved further south to contain Boston and the immediate area.

"My proud beauty." - It's the kind of line you encounter in those swashbucklers with hairy chested pirates and women with ripped bodices.

  • "I waited. Me and Carl Rogers." - I've put off dealing with this one for a while because Parker has used it a number of times and it will take another read-through of the entire series to list them all. Simone Hochreiter was kind enough to supply the following: "Carl Rogers was an American psychologist. His nondirective approach had a great impact on the practice of psychotherapy. Rogers was born in Oak Park. Ill on Jan. 8, 1902. In 1942 Rogers became the first therapist to record and transcribe therapy sessions verbatim, a practice now standard. He published his ideas and clinical results in several books. Rogers taught at the University of Chicago and the University of Wisconsin at Madison. He was a fellow at the Center for Studies of the Person. He became widely known with his book, 'On Becoming a Person.' I found it appropriate here that he mentioned Carl Rogers since Spenser waits until Susan comes to terms with the problem herself."

  • "My open Irish punim." - A cross-ethnic joke. Spenser is Irish, Susan is Jewish, and punim is Yiddish for "face." Neither of them cling to their ancestry but can instead use it as a source of humor.
  • "Lush Life." - A jazzy little number written by Billy Strayhorn, who was with the Duke Ellington Orchestra. He also wrote Take the A-Train and Satin Doll. See Lyrics

Chapter 30:

  • "Physician, heal thyself." - Luke 4:23.

Chapter 31:

  • "haute monde." - I am hopelessly monolingual, so I will let Iain Campbell explain this one: "RBP really should steer clear of French! It hurts! Monde being a masculine singular noun, the adjective should be haut, without the e. Would mean 'high society' were it a French idiom. Actually, in French, the expression 'le monde' is enough. One does not add the adjective 'haut'. A deb, for example, is making her debut in "le monde", though it is about as 'haut' as it can go. Also often encountered in the phrase 'demi monde', meaning that area where high society and the underworld overlap e.g. the original Moulin Rouge, where such as Toulouse-Lautrec and his high society pals mingled with the most common hookers and hoofers."
  • "More than the spoken word can tell." - It's from the song The Last Farewell, words and music by Roger Whittaker. See Lyrics

Chapter 32:

  • "Don't it always seem to go..." - that you don't know what you've got 'til it's gone. From the song Big Yellow Taxi, written and performed by Joni Mitchell in 1970. See Lyrics

Chapter 34:

  • "As the pedestrians on the bridge moved spectrally past us." - I had this one on my Unknown Quotes page for years and put a few tentative hits here but Tim Healy seems to have finally nailed it down. "There is a section in the first part of The Waste Land in which Eliot's speaker pictures himself on London Bridge as a procession of the dead is moving past:
Under the brown fog of a winter dawn,
A crowd flowed over London Bridge, so many,
I had not thought death had undone so many.
Sighs, short and infrequent, were exhaled,
And each man fixed his eyes before his feet."
Indeed, it's part 1, The Burial of the Dead/ Unreal city. See Poetry

Chapter 36:

  • "After great pain a formal feeling comes." The title of a poem by Emily Dickenson. I've included it in Poetry but it's short enough to include here:
After great pain, a formal feeling comes--
The Nerves sit ceremonious, like Tombs--
The stiff Heart questions was it He, that bore,
And Yesterday, or Centuries before?
The Feet, mechanical, go round--
Of Ground, or Air, or Ought--
A Wooden way
Regardless grown,
A Quartz contentment, like a stone--
This is the Hour of Lead--
Remembered, if outlived,
As Freezing persons, recollect the Snow--
First--Chill--then Stupor--then the letting go--

Chapter 37:

  • "I'm shocked...shocked I tell you." - See Oft Quoted

Chapter 38:

  • Simone Hochreiter noted two lines from Shakespeare that I overlooked. The following is directly from her post: "The quality of mercy is not strained." - It is from The Merchant of Venice, Act IV, Scene 1.
  • "Ah, there's the rub." - It's from Hamlet, the famous monologue "To be or not to be," Act III, scene 1. (Me again) He next uses it in Hugger Mugger chapter 48. BTW I would also like to thank Iain Campbell, who pointed out the same two quotes a week or so later but before I posted the above update.

Chapter 41:

  • "Here's looking at you, Sigmund." - as Simone puts it: "Casablanca meets Freud." See Oft Quoted.

Chapter 48:

  • "looked at it the way Macbeth had looked at the spot." - To quote Simone: "Well, Macbeth murdered Duncan, the Scottish king and after that hallucinates because of his guilt. But it was actually Lady Macbeth who always saw blood on her hands (she incited Macbeth to murder the king)and coined the saying 'Out, damned spot!' Act V, scene 1. Which reminds me, RBP used this before in Mortal Stakes, chapter 26, when he stood under the shower after he killed Wally and Doerr. 'Out, out damned spot.'" Well noted, Simone.

Meanwhile, in the Spenser UniverseEdit

  • Susan is pretty good to have around in a tense situation. And mighty handy with a brick.
  • Ah, the passage of time. Spenser has a club soda and a salad for lunch because alcohol or a heavy meal would necessitate a nap. Remember when three beers with lunch was just about right?

Favorite LinesEdit

Chapter 2: At least she has a hobby

"She looked doubtful. Doubtful was a cute look for her.
'Well,' she said, 'I'm not sure...'
I gave her my card. The one that had my name and address but no references to me being a sleuth.
'Tell him his ex-wife sent me.'
Now she looked slightly embarrassed. Also a cute look. I suspected that she practiced all of them in a mirror and discarded any that weren't cute."

Chapter 3: Take me back to old county Costagnozzi

"Jimmy brought the beer.
'Irish,' Hawk said.
'His name is James Santo Costagnozzi,' I said.
'Bad luck,' Hawk said. 'To look Irish when you are not.'
'Unless you're trying to pass,' I said.
'Nobody trying to pass for Irish,' Hawk said.
'Is that an ethnic slur?' I said.
'Believe so,' Hawk said."

Chapter 4: Does he put a stupid-ass glyph on his business cards now?

"'Saw your ex-husband this morning,' I said.
Susan lifted her head from my shoulder and shifted slightly on the couch.
'Don't call him that,' she said.
'Okay, I went to see the artist formerly known as Silverman today.'"

Chapter 5: Do the little toast points come in a separate truck?

"The driveway, which curved up to the right and out of sight behind the house, was covered with red stone dust, and there were a lot of flower beds, inert in the loveless March sunlight. I parked at the top of the hill in a big turn-around, beside a red Mercedes sport coupe and a silver Lexus sedan. There was enough room left over to park a couple of tour buses and a caviar truck."

Chapter 7: Let's make this quick, my steed is double parked outside

"'Francis Ronan,' I said.
'Working for or against?' she said.
'Probably against,' I said.
'That figures,' Rita said.
'Why does that figure?' I said.
'Sir Lancelot asks you about a dragon, you don't figure they're working together.'"

Chapter 15: But in Iowa they really mean it

"A Stoneham Police car drove up Main Street and pulled into the parking lot of the hardware store. A cop got out and walked into the store. In a few minutes he came out and stood by his car and gave me a cop look across the street. Cops on a two-man force in East Tuckabum, Iowa, will give you the same you-looking-for-trouble look that prowlies do in the South Bronx. Probably some sort of electro-magnetic force generated by the conjunction of gun and badge."

Chapter 17: Ah, springtime in New England

"It was a lovely December day, brisk and sunny. Unfortunately it was the first week in April."

Chapter 23: But can he sing his patter song really fast?

"Showered, shaved, wearing a crisp white shirt, with my jeans pressed and new bullets in my gun, I arrived at the office a little past noon, carrying a ham and egg sandwich and two cups of coffee in a brown paper bag. I took off my raincoat and my new white Red Sox cap, sat at my desk, and ate my sandwich and drank my coffee with my office door invitingly open and my feet up on the desk so anyone going by could see that I had some new running shoes. Except for the fact that I had absolutely no idea what I was doing, I was the very model of a modern major shamus."

Chapter 23: Hey, don't forget about interesting and useful literary sites such as this

"'You're not computer literate?'
'Been keeping company,' Hawk said. 'With a woman works for a software outfit. One night she show me the wonders of the Internet.'
'Your reward probably for being such a studly,' I said.
'Studly be its own reward,' Hawk said. 'Anyway, that more than I want to know about computers.'
'You don't groove on the information highway?"
Hawk snorted.
'What I like,' I said, 'is how this wondrous artifact of science is primarily useful as a conveyance for dirty pictures.'
'Of ugly people,' Hawk said.
'Sadly,' I said."

Chapter 23: The good news is that donations are at an all-time high...

"'Quirk tell you anything last night?' Hawk said.
'They hadn't ID'd him yet,' I said. 'Nobody wanted to search the body.'
'Let the ME do it,' Hawk said.
'That's what Quirk said. Stiff had a gun, though. If fell out of his pocket when they were taking him away.'
'So maybe he ain't from the United Way,' Hawk said.
'Or maybe he is,' I said."

Chapter 25: Selflessly looking out for her welfare

"'Were we going to share those onion rings?" Susan said.
'Of course,' I said. 'I was only picking out the fattening ones to save you.'
'And so fast,' Susan said.
'Just doing my job, little lady.'"

Chapter 27: Truth in government

"When Mattie Clayman hung up, I called the AG's office and asked for Public Charities. It took a little while, but they had no record of anybody from their office going to see anyone at AIDS Place.
'You're sure?' I said.
There was a pause while the woman on the phone thought about being sure.
'We are a government agency,' she said finally.
'Which means you are not sure of anything,' I said.

Chapter 31: The entrepreneurial gumshoe

"She reached into her matching purse and took out a checkbook and a big gold fountain pan.
'How much?' she said.
'To spend the night with me?' I said. 'I usually get one thousand.'
'Don't be coarse,' she said. 'How much for the photographs.'
'Oh, those are free,' I said. 'You want the one with my body oiled, or the all-natural one?'"

Chapter 32: Sadly, his take on the Boston radio scene is all too true

"I slipped into the driver's seat in case we needed to be quick and tried to find jazz on the radio and failed. Besides all the current music, there was classical and there was a couple of music-of-your-life stations. I had long ago decided that Gogi Grant singing "The Wayward Wind" was not the music of my life, and I settled for a classical station."

Chapter 37: The truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.

"'Guys like these two don't usually assault strangers on the street for the hell of it,' Kearny said.
'I know,' I said. 'Doesn't make any sense, does it.'
'It would make a lot more sense if this was related to you nosing around in somebody's business who didn't want you nosing around in his business,' Kearny said.
'It sure would,' I said.
Open and earnest, a law-abiding citizen eager to help the police. Kearny looked at me like he didn't think I was so open and earnest, and maybe even like I wasn't helping the police. Cops get cynical."

Chapter 38: Spenser has obviously not met the current City Council

"Hawk and I were shooting at an indoor range in Dorchester. I had three handguns, my everyday short S&W .38, the .357 I used for big game, and the Browning nine which I kept for those exciting times when five or six shots just aren't enough. Hawk had a long-barreled .44 Magnum which will, probably, bring down a crazed bull elephant. Since you rarely run into a bull elephant in Boston, I always suspected Hawk carried it for effect."

Chapter 38: How can you argue with logic like that?

"In the parking lot Hawk said, 'Maybe the numbers the same but my groupings were tighter.'
'Shooting with that blunderbuss, for crissake, you shouldn't even have a grouping. You ought to put one round right on top of another.'
'Groupings still tighter,' Hawk said.
'If we'd both been shooting at a live target, either one of us would have killed him,' I said.
'Sure,' Hawk said.
He didn't say anything else until we were in his Jag heading downtown on Blue Hill Avenue.
'I'd of killed him deader,' Hawk said softly.
'Sure you would have,' I said.
The quality of mercy is not strained."

Chapter 39: Maybe the size does matter.

"We were nearly through our beer when Tony Marcus came down the hall with his bodyguard. Some people think a huge bodyguard will discourage people. Tony's would have discouraged the Marine Corps. He barely fit through the hallway.
'That's Junior,' Hawk said. 'He got his own zip code.'"


  • Chapter 3: Pan-fried oysters at the Casablanca with Hawk.
  • Chapter 5: Coffee, cream and sugar, at the Ronan's house.
  • Chapter 7: Lobster sandwich with mayo on a sourdough roll at the Ritz cafe.
  • Chapter 9: Baked oysters with spinach at Chez Henri. Also most of Susan's mashed potatoes.
  • Chapter 15: Two plain donuts and a large coffee at Dunkin' Donuts.
  • Chapter 17: Coffee and a corn muffin. Later, coffee and donuts.
  • Chapter 23: Ham and egg sandwich and two cups of coffee at the office. Hawk drops by with another cup of coffee and some donuts.
  • Chapter 25: Take-out fried clams and onion rings at Farnham's in Essex. He is clever enough to bring his own tartar sauce.
  • Chapter 26: Coffee at Nancy Ginsberg's house.
  • Chapter 29: Steak salad: (romaine lettuce, mushrooms, sweet peppers, celery, scallions, the steak grilled and sprinkled with cajun spices before cutting.) Also sweet corn he had frozen the previous year, removed from the cob and sprinkled with a little sugar and fresh cilantro.
  • Chapter 30: Coffee and an oatmeal scone at the office.
  • Chapter 31: Coffee in the food court at the North Shore Shopping Center.
  • Chapter 32: Coffee and a lemon scone whilst tracking Gavin.
  • Chapter 41: Broiled littlenecks, salad of lobster and tiny potatoes at Rialto's.
  • Chapter 43: Salad in a steak house in Quincy Market with Gavin.
  • Chapter 44: Pacific Northern oysters with a citrus sorbet at the bar in Mistral's.
  • Chapter 48: Coffee with Susan and Brad at her house.


  • Chapter 1: Beer in the Bristol Lounge at the Far Seasons Hotel.
  • Chapter 3: Foster's draft at Casablanca in Harvard Square.
  • Chapter 4: Blue Moon Belgian White Ale at Susan's
  • Irish whiskey at home (it's therapeutic.)
  • Chapter 7: Vodka martini on the rocks with a twist at the Ritz cafe with Rita Fiore.
  • Chapter 12: Beer at an outdoor cafe on Newbury Street.
  • Chapter 16: Beer at the Hotel Meridian with Rachel Wallace
  • Chapter 25: Blue Moon Belgian White Ale he brought to go with the fried clams.
  • Chapter 28: Changso beer at Weylu's (to be authentic.)
  • Chapter 32: A tall Courvoisier and soda at the Marriott bar.
  • Chapter 29: Beer while making supper at his apartment.
  • Chapter 39: A draft at Buddy Fox's while waiting for Tony Marcus.
  • Chapter 41: Champagne with dinner at Rialto.
  • Chapter 44: Beer at the bar in Mistrials with Hawk.
  • Chapter 49: Irish whiskey with Susan after Brad has left.


  • Brad's sister lives in "a development called Bailey's Field in Bedford" (yes, there is a Bedford, Massachusetts.) Cute. It's a Wonderful Life, George Bailey, Bedford Falls. Is this what happened when Old Man Potter didn't take over the town? In the movie the development was called Bailey's Park but it's a nice joke.
  • In chapter 26 he mentions "...the twenty-second Action News brief on Channel 3." If he can mention the Boston Globe and area restaurants by name why not one of the real TV stations in this area? Does he not want to insult the other local channels or is there a legal point I am not aware of?
  • One of the many mailing lists I subscribe to noted the following as I was composing this page; Spenser knows this already as he deals with Susan: You cannot teach a man anything; you can only help him find it within himself.--Galileo
  • Several people have written in about another inconsistency concerning Brad. In chapter 1 Susan says "I haven't seen him in years." In chapter 2 Spenser talks to him and says ""Just because her ex-husband whom she hasn't seen in twenty years..." Then in chapter 3 Hawk asks how long it's been since Susan had seen him and Spenser answers "Maybe twenty years." The problem is that Brad gave Pearl to Susan seven years earlier in Pastime, and he explained about being transferred to London, presumably while he passed her the pooch. Of course Spenser didn't meet him then and I've always assumed he was referring to when their relationship ended, ignoring their one-time little chat.
  • Oops: SUNC wrote in to note a little continuity problem in chapter 6:

"In A Catskill Eagle chapter 38, once Susan has been rescued from Russell, Spenser and Susan are talking and Susan asks Spenser if he had any siblings and he said no. She then says 'I was the youngest'... In Sudden Mischief chapter 6, when Spenser and Susan are talking about Susan's past, Susan says 'They were childless until me.'"

  • Much the same way that Spenser went from having had a mother in the earlier books to her having died during childbirth when Parker had a better idea years later.
  • Oops2: Doug Oleson wrote in with the following observation:
  • "In chapter twenty-one, Spenser finds a computer in Sterling's office. Spenser finds some blank disks in a drawer, put one in the computer and 'copied the hard disk onto it.' What kind of removable disk has ever been able to hold the entire contents of a hard disk?"
  • "Copied the hard disk onto it." "I added the copy of the hard disk I had made." From the description of what happened it should have said "downloaded the Address file to the floppy" but from what I have gathered Parker barely knows how to use a word processor and does not know the lingo. I don't imagine copy editors have the guts to send a manuscript back to Dr. Parker with a note saying "clean up these paragraphs on your next rewrite."
  • Oops3: Iain Campbell wrote in to note: "The hooker Velvet's real name is Kim Pak Soong. i.e. the patronymic is KIM, the given names are Pak Soong. Koreans (and other Asians) put the patronymic first, not last as is the Western habit.
  • However, as she leaves, in Ch.42, Spenser says: "Thank you, Kim". Making, in all probability, a Spenserish personal gesture, indicating that hooker or not, she is deserving of good manners. She looks at him, startled (probably not used to the good manners.) However, he uses 'Kim' as if it were the short form of 'Kimberley', not realizing it is her family name. Just a little slip. Maybe Parker doesn't have a lot of Asian contacts?
  • This name problem arose again during the Olympics, when Lee and Park and Kim and other Asian names came up, and announcers got quite confused as to who was what." I'm ashamed that this one slipped by me. My ex-wife is Korean and her name went from Che Hae Ryon to Hae Ryon Ames so I am thoroughly familiar with the forms of address involved. To be culturally correct Spenser should have said "Thank you Pak Soong." Parker and his doppelganger Spenser may have marched across a lot of Korean real estate but they don't seem to have picked up a lot of details.
  • Show me the money: Another freebie. Not only is he not being paid, he turns down Judge Ronan's offer of a payment for his troubles.

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