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

Detail from the cover of Phantom by Jo Nesbo

Phantom By Jo Nesbo, translated by Don Bartlett, Random House Canada, 452 pages, $24.95

Just when I think that Jo Nesbo's Harry Hole series can't get any better, he comes up with Phantom, one of this great crime writer's best, including the stellar Headhunters.

As do all Harry Hole books, this one begins with a graphic, grisly set-up: A rat is listening to the squeals of her hungry babies, but a body is blocking the route to her den.

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From that horrid little vignette, Nesbo slips easily to Oslo's international airport. Hole is returning to Oslo after three years. He finds much changed and much the same. Harry is, however, very changed. He's off drugs and booze. He is healthier, faster and warier. His first case turns out to be open and shut when a junkie kills another addict. No big deal in heroin-plagued Oslo. But following the clues leads him to other bodies, none of major police concern. But a serial killer is working the mean streets, and Norway's only serial-killer investigator is on the trail.

This novel has everything: characters with depth, a brilliant plot and a pace keeps you reading. It's also intelligent, and Nesbo deftly conceals an urgent message. Not to be missed.

Devotees should check out the trailer for the Norwegian film adaptation of Headhunters, which opens this month, and Martin Scorsese has begun filming Snowman.

The Next One To Fall By Hilary Davidson, Forge, 352 pages, $28.99

After her exciting debut in The Damage Done, it's good to see that Canadian Hilary Davidson has upped the ante in her second novel. This is a solid cozy with a good, tight plot, and the setting and characterization take it to the next level.

Journalist Lily Moore's sister died in The Damage Done. This one picks up three months later. Lily is deeply depressed, even suicidal. An assignment comes along to write about Machu Picchu, in Peru, accompanied by her old friend, photographer Jesse Robb. It should help Lily get back to living, but on the first day, they find a dying woman at the foot of an ancient stone staircase. With her dying breath, literally, the woman whispers a name. She didn't fall, she was pushed.

Peruvian authorities settle for accidental death. They don't want to ruffle tourism feathers, but events conspire to keep Lily and Jesse involved and, eventually, Lily locates the man whose name she heard from the dying woman. He's wealthy, connected and charming – and women with him seem to have fatal accidents. Lily's depression turns into an obsession with finding justice.

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Davidson is on a roll, short-listed for awards and with talent to burn. That said, she doesn't need to pad her plot or resort to Cellophane-thin secondary characters. Louise Penny should be her guide: Taking no short cuts makes for a great series.

Fall From Grace By Richard North Patterson, Scribner, 278 pages, $29.99

I love a good airplane novel, and Richard North Patterson is one of the best of the transatlantic-flight authors. Fall From Grace begins with a very fine funeral for a very unloved man.. Benjamin Blaine was a writer in the Hemingway style: lots of macho heroics, wars and great novels. He was also a serial adulterer who publicly humiliated his wife and emotionally abused his sons. The quiet town on Martha's Vineyard where he died may mourn him, but his family is glad he's dead. That is, until they discover that his will leaves his estate to the television star who was his last mistress.

His estranged son Adam returns from Afghanistan to find himself his father's executor. Besides leaving his mother penniless and homeless, his father's death, a fall from a cliff, is being questioned by the police. Patterson at his best.

House of the Hunted By Mark Mills, Random House, 296 pages, $31

Mark Mills made a big wave with his superb debut, Amagansett. His next two novels proved he is a master of the historical novel, deftly weaving fact with fiction.

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House of the Hunted, which moves from the wintry streets of revolutionary St. Petersburg to the idly rich enclaves of the Côte d'Azur, begins in 1919. Tom Nash attempts and fails to get his lover and their unborn child out of Russia. Nash is a spy, and his failure in Petrograd persuades him to leave it behind.

Fifteen years later, he's a successful writer living in France, enjoying the Riviera and the rich and famous who carouse there. Then someone breaks into his home and tries to kill him. It appears that, as Europe lurches toward another war, old operatives are back on the job.

An American Spy By Olen Steinhauer, Minotaur, 416 pages, $28.99

Milo Weaver, the Tourist, is back in the third novel of this sizzling series. The CIA Tourism Bureau is decimated after events in The Nearest Exit. The Chinese have infiltrated and destroyed the division, killing more than 30 operatives. Milo is one of the few survivors, and he's ready to lay low and stay alive, but his old boss needs him. So, once again, Milo heads out into the icy waters of international espionage. Steinhauer is one of the best of the new crop of spy novelists.

Gold Mountain By Vicki Delany, Dundurn, 328 pages, $17.99

This smart and funny sequel to Gold Fever takes us back to the bad old days of the Klondike Gold Rush. It's 1897, and Fiona MacGillivray and her son Angus head from Vancouver to Skagway and then to Dawson City. Fiona's dream is to open a theatre. When a gangster takes a fancy to her, she finds the temperature in Dawson City a lot warmer than she likes. Enter the RCMP. Delany is a dab hand with all the lore about life in the 19th-century Klondike.

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