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New in crime fiction: The latest thrillers and mysteries

Detail of illustration prepared for the print version of The Globe and Mail by Neal Cresswell

Neal Cresswell

Good as Dead By Mark Billingham, Little, Brown, 394 pages, $24.99

With a spellbinding plot and a new character, this 10th entry is the biggest and best DI Tom Thorne thriller yet.

Single mum and police detective Helen Weeks is on her way to the office. There's a stop for chewing gum (no more smoking) and chocolate. She chats with her newsagent, Mr. Akhtar. A waiting customer frets. It's all ordinary. A trio of yobbos comes in, steal a soft drink and makes trouble. Helen could try to stop them, but holds back. It's just a can of soda. Then, in a flash, the day alters everything. Helen Weeks stops being Mum, or Helen Weeks, copper, and instead becomes a hostage.

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That's just the first chapter. Why Thorne is pulled in and how he ferrets out the clues in a seemingly iron-clad old case are all part of this tale, put together like a fine watch.

The Ambitious City By Scott Thornley, Random House Canada, 453 pages, $24.95

The star in this terrific tale is Dundurn, Ont., Scott Thornley's thinly veiled Hamilton. It's his home town; he knows the history, the topography and feel to his very bones, and that's what makes this second book eaturing Detective Superintendent MacNeice so good.

There are bodies galore. The plot begins with seven dead bikers, all carefully murdered and mutilated to prevent identification. Then there's an international archeological team dredging up a pair of 1913 warships to make a tourist event out of the city's harbour. MacNeice is summoned when the engineer in charge catches a glimpse of a Depression-era Packard in the drink, with two very old corpses and one ventriloquist's dummy in the trunk. There are two newer corpses in cement pillars near the car. Finally, there are dead young women, obviously targeted by race.

Thornley blends history into a really good cop-shop story as MacNeice and team hunt for clues and information. Read this and then look for the first MacNeice book, Erasing Memory.

Kaleidoscope By Gail Bowen, McClelland & Stewart, 304 pages, $29.99

I love this series, and that's how most of Bowen's legion of fans feel about Joanne Kilbourn, now married to lawyer Zack Shreve. We all know that Joanne's family will figure prominently in any new story, and this is no exception. There's crime afoot in Regina, and the Kilbourn-Shreve ménage is right in the middle.

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One of Zack's millionaire clients wants to redevelop downtown Regina. Standing against the new vision is a young man whom Joanne taught at university, and now the lover of her daughter Mieka. With this division in the family, who needs more?

There's a lot more going on in this family – and in this novel – than first meets the eye. Before it's over, we are reminded quite forcibly that, early on, in her first marriage and years ago, Joanne was a committed socialist. This book brings her back to her conscience and her past, and Bowen does it all with panache.

Vanished By Liza Marklund, translated by Neil Smith, Vintage Canada, 523 pages, $21

This books picks up from events in Exposed, Marklund's previous novel featuring Swedish reporter Annika Bengtzon, and carries on with the earlier part of her career. It begins with a desperate woman in flight from a predator and segues into a Baltic hurricane – and that's in the first five pages.

When Annika is approached by a woman wanting someone to publicize her story, it's tempting. Annika is trapped on the copy editor's desk, convinced she'll never get a byline of her own. Then two bodies show up on a derelict Stockholm pier, and Annika finds herself with more crime copy than she wants. Her dreams of a career may end up getting her killed. Classic Marklund.

Poison Flower By Thomas Perry, Mysterious Press, 274 pages, $27.50

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There is no series quite like the Jane Whitefield books. Thomas Perry's novels about a Seneca woman who helps people disappear are both simple and complex. This one, the seventh in the series, begins with a breakout from a high-security prison and takes Jane on a run across the continent.

James Shelby is an innocent man convicted of the murder of his wife. His sister enlists Jane to spirit him away. In the ensuing melee, Jane is injured and then captured by professional hit men posing as police. They torture her in an attempt to find out Shelby's location. How Jane survives, escapes and heads across the country with nothing more than the clothes on her back and her wits makes for an adrenalin-fuelled trip.

The Fallen By Jassy Mackenzie, Soho, 310 pages, $28.95

The third time out for Rhodesian-born South African author Mackenzie isn't as good as her two earlier books, but still shows plenty of talent. Her detective, PI Jade de Jong, returns in this slick little whodunit set at an ecological resort far from de Jong's usual Johannesburg haunts. She's planned a romantic getaway with her lover, detective David Patel. Regrettably, David arrives with unexpected and life-changing news. Not only that, there's a killer loose.One of Mackenzie's strengths is her vivid descriptions of places and events. This is what makes her Jo'burg books so tight. The opening chapter, set in an urban slum, is vintage Mackenzie, but she seems to slacken when she gets to the St. Lucia Estuary.

Blue Monday By Nicci French, Viking, 322 pages, $28.50

The husband-and-wife team that collaborates as Nicci French has produced more than a dozen novels, but none as good as Blue Monday.

Frieda Klein is a London psychoanalyst who suffers from insomnia. On her sleepless nights, she rambles along the paths of the hidden rivers that flow beneath London – buried, built up, silted. When a small boy goes missing, Klein isn't particularly engaged. But a patient tells her something shocking, something that may be a clue, and she goes to the police. From there, Klein's carefully orchestrated personal life and highly ethical professional one are drawn into the world of crime. French's descriptions of the plight of the captured child are realistic and harrowing.

Walking into the Ocean By David Whellams, ECW, 472 pages, $24.95

What's summer without a solid British thriller? Ottawa author David Whellams's debut features retired Scotland Yard Chief Inspector Peter Cammon, in a story that starts on the cliffs of Dorset and then travels to the hills of Malta. On the way, a simple domestic murder-suicide morphs into a chase for a relentless serial killer. This is the first of a series: Peter Cammon could become another Detective Chief Inspector Alan Banks.

The Drowning By Camilla Lackberg, translated by Tiina Nunnally, HarperCollins, 489 pages, $28.99

This overly long tale by one of Sweden's best writers of psychological suspense novels, can be skimmed for the good bits. The beginning, with a man led to his end by a beautiful woman, is great. The body in the ice rising up is great, too, as is the hunt for a murderer who leaves no clues, seems to have no motive and is as ethereal as a ghost.

Never Play Another Man's Game By Mike Knowles, ECW, 224 pages, $24.95

This is a caper book, and a good one. It's the fourth in Hamilton schoolteacher Knowles's series featuring Wilson, a guy with ethics who steals for a living. The target is an armoured car and a very, very big payday. Trouble is, Wilson needs a partner, and this one comes with a kid named Rick, who's just dumb enough to believe that he can double-cross the guy in charge. For Wilson, it's all about maintaining the idea of honour among thieves, and he goes on the hunt.

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