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Seeing the truth in a lie, and other great new crime fiction

Detail from the cover of “A Murder of Crows” by David Rotenberg

A Murder Of Crows
By David Rotenberg, Simon & Schuster, 352 pages, $19.95

This second novel in the Junction Chronicles is every bit as good as the first, even if it's not set in the Toronto neighbourhood it's named for. In fact, if you really want to understand the action in A Murder Of Crows, you have to read the first novel, The Placebo Effect. This one begins just as that one ends and there are wisps of plotlines from the past that may confuse a new reader.

Once you get the back story, we have Decker Roberts, some-time ally of the National Security Agency. Roberts is a synesthete; he "sees" language and can tell when people are not telling the truth, but only just. He sees designs and lines that define absolute truth and an absolute lie, but the nuances evade him. If the speaker tells a lie he truly believes to be truth, Decker sees "truth."

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And what about questions that have many meanings? When a South African interrogator asks a prisoner, "Do you like white people?" the man tells the truth, "Yes." But does that mean white people who aren't South African? Decker Roberts has a rare gift but he's quickly understanding that it can also be a liability. His skills make him a formidable part of any interrogation team but the pesky ambivalence is often lost on the police who want absolutes.

When the cream of American scientific academia is annihilated in a bomb blast at a university commencement, Roberts is brought onto the terrorism task force. He is joined by another synesthete, whose talents complement his own and make them a formidable team. The action will take them across America, Canada and into Namibia, where Robert's estranged son, Seth, is living. Sinister forces are after Seth, whose talents may be even greater than his father's.

Rotenberg likes to take little byways off the plot and this can be disconcerting. But not to complain. A Murder Of Crows is a slick and readable thriller with great characters (Crazy Eddie the computer nerd is perfection) and lots of action. This is a great rainy-day companion.

The Third Bullet
By Stephen Hunter, Simon & Schuster, 485 pages, $29.99

No one but Stephen Hunter, who won the Pulitzer Prize for film criticism, could get me to read yet another novel about the Kennedy assassination. Every conspiracy theorist on the planet has done this one and yet Hunter bamboozled me into it. I read with relish and, at the end, got a twist that no one will see coming. We're not back in 1963 but 2012. Bob Lee Swagger, U.S Marine Corps sniper and old-time sleuth, is happily hiding out with the wife and kids in Idaho.

Then a woman comes to him with a strange tale of the possible murder of her husband and a mysterious overcoat in a building near where Kennedy was killed.

Swagger heads to Dallas, returning to the scene of one of the most investigated crimes of the century. To tell any more is to spoil one of the most inventive plots going.

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Evil In All Its Disguises
By Hilary Davidson, Forge, 352 pages, $29.99

Torontonian Hilary Davidson's lively series of travel mysteries is a great addition to any cottage library. This third book featuring travel journalist Lily Moore is the best of the set.

If you haven't already met the redoubtable Lily, start here. The setting is a swanky resort in Acapulco, Mexico. Once a hotbed of Hollywood royalty and the American rich, the old town is in decline. Lily is on a press junket that the Hotel Ceron hopes will revive some of the town's faded tourist trade. But her hotel is empty, with staff waiting for guests who don't arrive. When her friend Skye McDermott disappears, Lily finds the Hotel Ceron closing in on her as she hunts for clues to the mystery.

Davidson has a great eye for the small detail that leads the reader into the spot and her puzzle plots are beautifully organized and crafted.

By Robert Crais, Putnam, 312 pages, $29.50

I am not a fan of books where pets solve crimes. That is, I wasn't until Robert Crais introduced me to Maggie, the U.S. Marine Corps canine trooper trained to sniff out explosives on the battlefields of Iraq and Afghanistan.

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Maggie is no ordinary dog. For one thing, she has post-traumatic stress disorder.

She's been turned over to the L.A. police K-9 unit but no one thinks she can get past her fears. Enter cop Scott James, who also has a past of trauma and violence. The K-9 squad sees him as a potential failure, too. But with the aid of some bologna chunks, he and Maggie just might make a team. Only Crais, one of the best character builders in crime fiction, could turn a dog into a character in a mystery and maintain interest.

Maggie is a dog and she does not deduce. She does, however, investigate, as dogs do, and that's the best part of this really terrific book.

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