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

A detail of the cover of "In Winter's Grip," by Brenda Chapman

DEAD ZERO By Stephen Hunter, Simon & Schuster, 406 pages, $29.99

The only book better than a new Jack Reacher novel is a new Bob Lee Swagger adventure. Dead Zero, with a dynamite plot and riveting characters, is everything any action fan could want as Swagger, now hitting Senior Citizenhood, pits his wits against a man who could be a younger version of himself.

Ray Cruz is a Marine Corps gunnery sergeant, a near-legendary sniper, assumed killed in a bomb blast in Afghanistan. Cruz was part of a covert ops mission to assassinate an Afghani warlord named Ibrahim Zarzi, in league with the Taliban and Al Qaeda. Now it appears that Cruz didn' die in the blast. He's alive and on the hunt for his target. But Zarzi is no longer considered an enemy. Now he's the American-backed candidate for President of Afghanistan. The FBI and CIA want Swagger to find and "neutralize" Cruz.

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If this was just another rogue agent chase, it would still be a terrific book but Hunter, the Pulitzer-Prize winning film critic for the Washington Post, knows how to build characters. There are deep connections between Swagger and Cruz, intellectual and operational ideals, that make the chase far more complex as Swagger begins to wonder just who the real enemy is in this sea of corruption, lies, and war. Definitely one of the best of this brilliant series.

SO COLD THE RIVER By Michael Koryta, Little, Brown, 506 pages, $29.95

"You looked for the artifacts of their ambition…….Only through those things could you understand people long departed…..The reality of someone's heart lay in the objects of their desires. Whether those things were achieved did not matter nearly so much as what they had been."

That haunting paragraph is the opening for one of the best psychological suspense novels of the season. Eric Shaw is a young film maker, with a blot already on his copybook. He puts together clips of people's lives for funeral services. At a showing, he comes to the attention of Alyssa Bradford who hires him to make a documentary about her father-in-law, Campbell Bradford. The old man is ninety-five, with a past that he's kept hidden. But Shaw has a place to begin-the name of the town Campbell was born in-and an artifact, an antique water bottle that he's kept for nearly a century. How that tiny clue leads to a complex story of buried evil is what Koryta has achieved here and the ambiguity continues. Is it real? Or an hallucination?. You won't put this hefty book down from first paragraph to final sentence.

RED WOLF By Liza Marklund, translated by Neil Smith,Vintage Canada, 508 pages, $19.95

With all the great crime novels coming out of Scandinavia, it's difficult to say who's best but Liza Marklund is certainly in the top five. Her series featuring crime reporter Annika Bengtzon has a huge following in Europe and has already been sold to films. Red Wolf, is certain to cement that reputation here. It's sense of place, set in Sweden's far north, and engaging characters will please any reader but it's the well-constructed plot that makes the pages fly.

In the middle of winter in far-north Lulea, a journalist is murdered. Annika Bengtzon suspects that the death has something to do with events of forty years ago. The first death is followed by other, even more shocking murders, and leads Annika to a small communist group known as The Beasts.

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Marklund plays with Swedish history, politics, and current events all the while maintaining the integrity of her characters. A new Annika Bengtzon is due from vintage in the spring. This is a series to savor.

IN WINTER'S GRIP By Brenda Chapman, RendezVous, 296 pages, $16.95

Brenda Chapman, of Ottawa, is the author of a series of mysteries for young adults. In Winter's Grip is her first work for adults and it's a fine debut for a talented writer. She has chosen winter both as setting and metaphor for a life as chilling and grim as a January blizzard.

Dr. Maja Cleary is a respected plastic surgeon in Ottawa. Her work life is full and happy but her private life is increasingly strained. Then comes the news that her father, in the small town of Duved Cove, Minnesota, has been murdered and her brother is the prime suspect. Clearly doesn't doubt that her brother could have killed their father. The old man was cruel, abusive, and secretive. When Maja arrives in Duved Cove, she discovers that there are many secrets buried beneath the deep winter snow and plenty of other people who wanted her father dead.

THE EMPEROR'S TOMB By Steve Berry, Ballantine Books, 428 pages, $30

Steve Berry has made a career out of uncovering lost artifacts and building them into fictional plots. The Emperor's Tomb is another example but Berry surrounds central sleuth, Cotton Malone, with so many intriguing characters and fascinating titbits of real history that the formula always seems fresh.

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This time out, Malone gets a horrific email. He logs on to the find a real-time scene of his close friend Cassiopeia Witt being tortured. The message him to "Bring me the artifact she asked you to keep safe." The problem is, Malone hasn't a clue to the meaning. There is no artifact but he's got to find it and save his friend so it's off to Denmark and then Vietnam and places east. There's a sinister brotherhood and the usual cabal of evildoers but it's unraveling the puzzle that counts here. This is one of Berry's best.

EDGE By Jeffery Deaver, Simon & Schuster, 397 pages, $29.99

When it comes to puzzles and clues, there are few authors to rival Jeffery Deaver. Edge is a tense, nail-biting novel of the physical andpsychological standoff between Henry Loving, a psychopathic professional killer who specializes in extracting information and a federal protection officer known as Corte. Loving's secret is gaining an "edge" on his target by threatening close family members with torture, blackmail, murder, to get the target to give in. Kessler's strength is his absolute refusal to abandon the people in his care.

D.C. policeman Ryan Kessler is Loving's target. No one knows why. Corte is assigned to protect and he has a personal stake in this one. Loving killed someone he loved. The action is a cat-and-mouse weave of clues and counter-clues as Corte tries to stay ahead of a killer and the police attempt to figure out which of Kessler's cases is the focus of Loving's assault. This is vintage Deaver at his best.

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