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Dark Territory

By Susan Philpott, Simon & Schuster Canada, 432 pages, $19.99

What if we could spirit survivors away from their victimizers and take them on a secret journey to a new life? That's what Susan Philpott, a social worker whose case load includes many severely traumatized women, has created in her Signy Shepherd series, set in Ottawa and its environs. Signy works for an underground escape organization known as The Line, which takes the vulnerable to safety. (The plot owes a bit to Thomas Perry's Jane Whitefield thrillers.) Signy is smart, capable, and able to take on men twice her size. The novel, in which Signy has to protect a young woman and her infant son, features a lot of action and some smart plotting, and Philpott provides an important lesson about domestic abuse without being too preachy. After reading this, you'll wish that someone, somewhere, would set up a real-life Line to shepherd the abused and frightened to safety. Philpott can't rescue everyone, but she can provide comfort in her fiction. (The first book of the series, Blown Red, provides good background to Dark Territory.)

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The Princeling Of Nanjing

By Ian Hamilton, House of Anansi/Spiderline, 368 pages, $19.95

Ava Lee has a new business, a new look, and, most important, a new Triad boss to appreciate her particular financial talents. Ava is in Shanghai, where her new venture, a line of haute couture fashion, is opening. Fans know that Ian Hamilton killed off Uncle, leaving a power vacuum at the head of the Triad organization. Xu, the new leader, comes with a problem – he has plans to take the Triad out of drugs and prostitution and into more modern and lucrative crime fields. The fabulously wealthy and connected Tsai family have objections. Tsai Lian, the Princeling of the title, is the son of a Red Army general who was with Mao on the Long March; there can be no tighter connection to the current regime. Xu has a choice: He can do what the Tsais ask, which he believes will lead to the destruction of the Triad, or he can refuse and be hunted down and disposed of. We know that Ava will come up with a plan and Hamilton will come up with a twist.

House of the Rising Sun

By James Lee Burke, Simon & Schuster, 434 pages, $34.99

Is this novel a mystery? A western? A fictionalized history? You won't care because James Lee Burke can transport us to places we've never been and make us love them and the people in them. This is his fifth Hackberry Holland novel and, like the others, it's set in southern Texas. The story begins in 1916 with a Texas Ranger escaping from a gang of Mexican revolutionaries and, from that opening, it never rests. Holland is a hard-drinking man, alienated from his only son, and, like most of Burke's men, in need of redemption. He's not averse to killing but a dying revolutionary challenges him: Why does he kill poor people and women? Holland has done that, and all the bourbon in Texas doesn't let him forget. There's a lot more to the plot, which spans years and has Holland travelling across the United States. The epigraph at the beginning of the book is from In Flanders Fields. That's a perfect way to begin a book about honour and redemption and a belief in a higher good.

Even Dogs in the Wild

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By Ian Rankin, Orion, 345 pages, $28.99

Fathers and sons are a continuing theme in mystery fiction but there's none stranger, perhaps, than the bond between retired Edinburgh cop John Rebus and the notorious local mobster Big Ger Cafferty. This latest novel in the Rebus series takes the odd pair into a frenzied investigation that begins with DI Siobhan Clarke's search for the killer of a lawyer. It looks like a robbery gone lethal but there are signs that it may be more. The clues lead to Cafferty and he talks to no one but Rebus. The plot is devious and complicated and there are a lot of side plots that run off into nowhere, but that's par for Rankin's course. The best scenes are when a gang of Glasgow coppers invade Edinburgh and scare even their gangsters into obedience; I never realized how different Scotland's two major cities were until I read some of the observations in this very good, very lively, book.

The Killing Forest

By Sara Blaedel, translated by Mark Kline, Grand Central, 310 pages, $31.50

Danish author Sara Blaedel is one of the top names in Scandinavian crime fiction but, over here, she's best known for the superb book The Forgotten Girls, the fourth in the Louise Rick series. The fifth and latest, The Killing Forest, is even better than The Forgotten Girls. After an extended leave, Louise is back with the special Search Agency of the National Police Force. She's tasked with investigating the disappearance of a 15-year-old girl from the village of Hvalsoe, where, years ago, Louise's teenage boyfriend died. Louise has always wanted to investigate his death, which was tied to a strange forest cult based on old Nordic beliefs. The girl's disappearance takes her back to Hvalsoe and into her own past. This is a complex story that covers a lot of ground in a very small space. Blaedel knows her Norse legends and she weaves a great plot drawn from Danish history and lore. If you haven't read The Forgotten Girls, you'll want to read it, too.

Blood, Salt, Water

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By Denise Mina, HarperCollins Canada, 304 pages, $33.99

Only Denise Mina can turn a stone-cold killer into an appealing and sympathetic character. That's what she does here with Iain Fraser, a recently released convict who has settled in a picturesque and fictional Scottish village called Helensburgh. He's riddled with guilt over his actions, but he had his orders from the local chief gangster: Kill the woman or be killed himself. Meanwhile, in Glasgow, DI Alex Morrow is shadowing a woman named Roxanna Fuentecilla, who they think is involved in money-laundering and drug-smuggling. When Fuentecilla disappears, leaving behind two children who obviously know far more than they will tell the police, Morrow is on the trail. This novel, like Mina's others, has a well-developed plot and great characters. The story takes place in the run-up to the vote for Scottish independence, and Helensburgh, a cozy enclave of rich people, is beautifully drawn.

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