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Eight new crime novels you should be devouring

An Officer and a Spy, by Robert Harris

An Officer And A Spy, by Robert Harris

Hutchinson, 496 pages, $35.95

History has provided Robert Harris with a stellar cast of characters for this sensational novel and he's turned it into a brilliant story of clues found, reputations shattered, and courtroom dramas of the highest order. In short, the author who gave us Fatherland and The Ghost does it, superbly, again.

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The setting is fin de siècle Paris and the plot is l'affaire Dreyfus, which split French public opinion into to opposing camps and, eventually, put the French Army on trial. Dreyfus, an innocent captain, was tried and convicted of treason, specifically, passing secret information to the Germans. There was a real spy but Dreyfus was selected as a sacrifice because he was a Jew, an Alsatian, and he was wealthy and didn't bother to hide it. These "crimes" led him to a brutal imprisonment in solitary confinement on Devil's Island in French Guiana. The pro-Dreyfus forces, led by the novelist Émile Zola, were a who's who of French politics and letters and included Georges Clemenceau, Anatole France, and Jean Jaurès.

The real hero of the story, however, was Colonel Georges Picquart, head of the army's "Special Section" of spymasters. Here, Picquart uncovers irrefutable evidence of Dreyfus's innocence and another officer's guilt. All these people are real; Harris's talents seamlessly combine historical materials and fictional encounters. The courtroom scenes, in particular, seem word-for-word from the original transcripts.

He's also unsparing in his depictions of virulent French anti-Semitism that shows clearly where, 40 years later, Hitler found his language. This is a must-read for Harris fans and anyone who loves historical mysteries.

The Dying Hours, by Mark Billingham

Piatkus, 416 pages, $24.95

When last seen, Detective Tom Thorne was up to his ears in trouble and about to be demoted. He's back, no longer on the Murder Squad and reduced to an ordinary uniformed plod. A spate of suicides among the elderly catches his eye and he sees a pattern, but without the stature and resources of his old job, he can't convince anyone that these deaths are murder and that someone, somehow, is responsible. One of the best of the Thornes.

Soon, by Charlotte Grimshaw

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Spiderline, 312 pages, $19.95

This chilling psychological thriller set in New Zealand is as great an introduction to the works of Grimshaw as any reader will need. She takes us into the world of power money and power politics and sets it all at an idyllic beach in a perfect summer. Prime Minister David Hallwright and Dr. Simon Lampton are dead friends, their families tied by more than ordinary friendships. Then things begin to go awry. This is a truly riveting novel.

Never Laugh As A Hearse Goes By, by Elizabeth J. Duncan

Minotaur, 304 pages, $28.99

If you haven't already discovered this charming Welsh series by Toronto author Duncan, start now. There's the delightful village of Llanelen, and the even more delightful Penny Brannigan, owner/operator of the Llanelen Spa. Bodies do drop here and Penny is called upon to uncover the culprits. This time there's hugger-mugger in the library when a bishop's secretary is poisoned. Great fun for lovers of good puzzle plots.

Luminous Chaos, by Jean-Christophe Valtat

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Melville House, 528 pages, $26.95

Cross crime with speculative fiction and you get this fantastic steam-punk story from one of France's hottest new authors. I haven't read Aurorarama, the first of this series set in New Venice, "The pearl of the Arctic," but I will now.

This novel, set in 1907 A.B. (After Backwards) has our anti-hero Brentford Orsini on a mission to Paris, when he and his gang are accidentally (the time-machine has a glitch) transported to Paris in 1895, the time before Backward and New Venice. Proust, Mallarme, and a gang of anarchists are intent on bombing the new church of Sacre Coeur. This novel is a great romp with all sorts of real and imaginary histories and events. Long, but worth it.

Watching You, by Michael Robotham

Sphere, 432 pages, $24.95

Ever get that creepy feeling that someone is watching you? A bit of a tickle at the back of the neck? That's all that Marnie Logan has to convince her that someone, somehow, is there. No one believes her, of course. After all, Marnie has a real problem: her husband Daniel has been missing for over a year; she's depressed and alone. All that takes her to clinical psychologist Joe O'Loughlin. But what should be straightforward therapy turns into a search of Marnie's hidden past and then comes The Book, a gift Daniel was preparing for her, with the greatest shock of all.

Blood Of A Saint, by Anne Emery

ECW, 336 pages, $24.95

Lawyer Monty Collins and Father Brennan Burke are a fine team of sleuths in this great series set in Halifax. This time out, Father Burke has a mess on his hands. A woman has claimed to have seen an apparition of the Virgin Mary in his churchyard and the place is overrun with pilgrims, tourists, journalists, and assorted sellers of tat, including a well-known talk-show host. While an exasperated Burke tries to clear the streets, a corpse is found on the site of the apparition and the talk-show host is arrested. This takes us out of religion and into the realm of law. This is a good series with solid characters and a good plot. Lots of East Coast color, too.

Up In Smoke, by Ross Pennie

ECW, 344 pages, $24.95

We all know that cigarettes can kill you. But what if they could really kill you – not over a period of years, but in days, weeks. That's the scary pit in the heart of this excellent novel by Ross Pennie, who spent years studying infectious diseases and then put all his knowledge into the character of Dr. Zol Szabo and his excellent mystery series set in southern Ontario. The doctor and his team are called to the leafy green of the Ontario tobacco fields when teenagers suddenly start dying of liver failure. Szabo is immediately drawn to cut-rate cigarettes sold out of the nearby Grand Basin Indian Reserve. Somehow, the tobacco has been contaminated and it's spreading. Szabo confronts the man responsible but there's no stopping him and the cigarettes, and deaths, spread out from the reserve and go national. This is a slickly plotted medical thriller with lots of action.

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