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New in crime fiction: The latest mysteries and thrillers

A detail from the cover of "The Leopard" by Jo Nesbo

The Leopard By Jo Nesbo, translated by Don Bartlett, Random House Canada, 61 pages, $24.95

"She awoke. Blinked in the pitch darkness. Yawned, and breathed through her nose. … Felt a tear run down her face, felt it dissolve the salt of other tears … her cheeks were forced out by the pressure from inside. The foreign body in her mouth felt as though it would explode her head. But what was it? What was it?"

That's the opening of the latest Harry Hole novel from Norwegian crime master Jo Nesbo, and it gets scarier and darker from there.The young victim is not only viciously tortured but killed in a particularly nasty and unique way. It's a case for Harry Hole, Norway's only expert on serial killers. But Hole is on an extended opium/alcohol/whatever bender in Hong Kong, trying to forget the devastating personal fallout from his investigation of the Snowman murders. His old boss, Gunnar Hagen, head of Oslo Homicide, sends a detective to hunt him down.

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Just being home doesn't mean Harry is going to work the case, and when a high-profile female legislator dies it's out of Oslo police's hands.

But Hole, hooked on the case, is already investigating. When he's forbidden to hunt, he goes outside the office and finds a strange link among the victims. They were all once at an isolated mountain cabin, skiing. The guest list is missing. Just who the victims are, why they were chosen and what their connections are form the spine of this spellbinding novel.

Live Wire By Harlan Coben, Dutton, 371 pages, $32.50

Once again, Harlan Coben's sports-agent/investigator steps out in a sharp story with a great plot and plenty of action.

Suzze T is an ex-tennis pro married to a major rock musician; both are Myron Bolitar's clients. Suzze is very pregnant with their first child when a Facebook post claims her husband isn't the father. Exit the rocker. Enter Myron, charged with proving the post is a lie. But things take a new turn when Myron spots his sister-in-law, Kitty. What's she doing in New York? And where is her husband, Myron's long-estranged brother?

Sorting out the complicated relationships is what this story is really about, and it involves a reclusive musical genius hiding behind major security on a private island, a trip through the world of monied celebrities, and a dive into Bolitar's past. It's all done with plenty of dash and panache, as only Coben can deliver.

So Much Pretty By Cara Hoffman, Simon & Schuster, 283 pages, $28.99

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A spectacular debut: This beautifully constructed mystery, with its engaging characters and intriguing premise, has everything a reader wants, including an unusual setting.

Haeden, N.Y., is one of those forgotten rust-belt small towns that used to make America rich and now just make it sad. Wendy White is a local girl who grew up, loved her family and then moved out to live with her first great love. Then she disappeared.

What exactly happened to Wendy is grist for a journalist hunting for a big story, as well as intellectual activity for an eccentric and highly intelligent teenage outsider. Just who will uncover the mystery of Wendy's end is what keeps the story moving.

The Gallows Bird By Camilla Lackberg, translated by Steven T. Murray, HarperCollins, 378 pages, $19.99

Yet another Swedish crime novelist being compared to Stieg Larsson, Lackberg is very different in style, content and voice. This taut little mystery is more like Frances Fyfield or Minette Walters, despite its resolutely Scandinavian tone.

In the quiet village of Tanumshede, accidents seem to be happening at an unusual rate. Detective Patrik Hedstrom and his squad are on the case. At the same time, the whole town, Hedstrom included, is part of a reality-TV series that keeps everyone on edge. As the cameras roll and the story is played out on a national stage, a murder investigation takes over.

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This is the third novel by Lackberg to be translated into English, and it's the best - better than Larsson's Millennium trilogy.

The Busy Woman's Guide to Murder By Mary Jane Maffini, Berkley Prime Crime, 294 pages, $9.99

There is a place for the clever puzzle plot, and Mary Jane Maffini's series, featuring organizer/sleuth Charlotte Adams, is perfectly at home in it. This is the fifth book that clears up the clutter of murder and also includes organizing tips to keep the readers' homes (and lives) orderly. This time out, Charlotte's friend Mona Pringle threatens to kill the mean girl who bullied her when the two were teenagers. A body falls, clues unravel and, by the end, everything is perfectly tidy again. Devotees of the classic mystery can do no better than this clever twister.

Margaret Cannon reviews crime fiction for The Globe and Mail.

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