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New in crime fiction: A guide to the latest thrillers and mysteries

The Coast Road By John Brady, McArthur & Co., 390 pages, $24.95,

Ireland is facing perilous financial times. A spate of recent articles in the Report on Business outlines all the finagling that led the country to its current state of near-bankruptcy. John Brady does it in a single chapter. All you need to know about the implosion of the Celtic Tiger is in The Coast Road. Who won, who lost, and who's going to pay. Then we move to murder and one of Brady's best Matt Minogue books ever.

The dead person is a homeless man beaten to death in a Dublin park. In a season of bitterness and regret, Patrick Larkin's dismal end strikes a public chord. He was poor, alcoholic and mentally ill; the perfect face of vulnerability ground under the capitalist boot. The locals had dubbed him "the King of Ireland," but there are no clues to who killed him or why.

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Months after Larkin's death, the public outcry continues. Minogue is pleased to take over the cold case, but he and his partner Tommy Malone scarcely have time to review the case notes when someone else dies. Just what did Patrick Larkin see or hear? Drugs? Worse? Or was the "King" just walking in the wrong place at the wrong time?

This book has one of Brady's best plots, along with his always-fine characters and stellar Dublin setting. Not to be missed.

A Likely Story By Eric Wright, Cormorant, 211 pages, $21

Eric Wright is one of Canada's finest crime authors. His elegant smooth style, his engaging characters, and his clever witty dialogue belong more to the English tradition of novels of manners, rather than the currently popular school of realism. He (temporarily, I hope) retired his Toronto cop, Charlie Salter, and it's been a while since the estimable Lucy Trimble flexed her investigator's chops. A Likely Story brings back Joe Barley, college administrator, sometime investigator, father-to-be and, like many current fathers, possibly about-to-be unemployed. Wright weaves all of this into a tight story that nips around Toronto like an autumn wind.

The mystery here is the disappearance of David Simmonds, a newly hired professor. Barley, the college's program administrator, has his hands full with a baby on the way, classes begun, rumours of budget and staff cuts, and his assignment to track down a couple of anonymous writers who are using the school paper to stir up trouble. Then Simmonds reappears - at least, Barley thinks it's Simmonds. The man is much altered and the mystery deepens. Smart and beautifully crafted, this is Wright at his very finest.

The Tanglewood Murders By David Weedmark, RendezVous Crime, 373 pages, $16.95

David Weedmark of Ottawa is a highly praised poet, but this debut novel shows his gritty side. Ottawa Detective Ben Taylor has been an undercover agent for three years when he screws up and a child is killed. The RCMP says he wasn't responsible, but Taylor takes a leave and heads to Ontario's picturesque Prince Edward County, where he worked on farms as a youth.

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The County, however, is now a long way from that bucolic history. Tanglewood Farm is a high-powered winery, the expanding centre of a family business that is taking over the local orchards, bulldozing greenhouses, hiring migrant labourers - and making locals angry. It's almost predictable that someone will turn up dead. And when she does, Ben Taylor is right back where he belongs: investigating.

Weedmark has a solid character in Taylor, and he's got a good ear for dialogue and a great setting. He also seems to know enough about the winery business to make the story work. There are some first-novel fumbles in the plot, but nothing that can't be forgiven.

Murder in the Chilcotin By Roy Innes, NeWest Press, 315 pages, $19.95

This third book in the very good series featuring RCMP Inspector Coswell and his partner, Sergeant Blakemore, is the best so far, and indicates that Innes is expanding both his scope and his characters.

In this outing, the pair head for the rugged B.C. Interior region of West Cariboo, where the body of a young RCMP constable has been found in his cruiser at the bottom of a ravine. It's immediately clear that he was murdered, and that puts Coswell and Blakemore on the trail of the killer of one of their own. Innes ramps up the suspense and adds a couple of interesting new characters, including a young tribal policeman who takes them behind the façade of rancherly courtesy into the wild west of grow-ops and outlaw gangs.

Beautiful Lie the Dead By Barbara Fradkin, RendezVous Crime, 352 pages, $16.95

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Beautiful Lie the Dead is Barbara Fradkin's best Inspector Green mystery yet. It begins with an Ottawa snowstorm and the disappearance of a rich man's fiancée, Meredith Brandon. Inspector Michael Green is on the case and traces the missing woman to Montreal, where she visited with a woman named Lise Gravelle. When Gravelle's body turns up in Ottawa, Green knows there's a connection. But what? His investigation takes him to Montreal and the death of Brandon's father, a presumed suicide. But witnesses were hushed and clues hidden. Just what happened and why was Gravelle still connected to the Brandons after three decades? Fradkin really shines with this story.

She Felt No Pain By Lou Allin, RendezVous Crime, 280 pages, $16.95

Lou Allin's second Vancouver Island mystery is better than her first, and that one was pretty good. Fossil Bay and RCMP Corporal Holly Martin have a great outing here, chasing a drug dealer whose product seems to be causing death rather than the standard high. One victim seems to have left a clue of some sort, but Holly has to find it, then figure out how it fits into a puzzle that she doesn't have a picture for. Allin is great at putting the bits together and keeping readers glued to the page. This one is lots of fun.

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