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FROM THE DEAD By Mark Billingham, McArthur & Co., 362 pages, $24.95 (paper)

Thorne is back. That's all anyone has to say about this terrific new book by Mark Billingham, author of, among other chillers, Bloodline. This one literally sizzles from the first page and doesn't let up until the final paragraph.

The prologue opens as a man is fried alive in a car. It's murder, clear and simple. That was then, 10 years ago. The dead man is Alan Langford and the woman accused, tried and convicted of arranging his murder is his wife Donna. She's just been released from prison. But there'll be no return to the free life for Donna. Just as she's released, she gets a letter with a photo, of her supposedly dead husband.

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If Alan Langford is alive, then he's looking for more than ordinary revenge. If he's dead, who's playing games with his not-so-grieving widow? DI Tom Thorne finds himself caught in a series of games within games where no one and nothing is exactly what they appear to be. This is a tough, taut thriller with enough suspense to keep you reading late into the night. If you haven't already discovered Thorne, this is the perfect place to begin this great series.

EVIL IN RETURN By Elena Forbes, Anansi, 408 pages, $21.95 (paper)

Evil In Return is the third installment in the excellent Mark Tartaglia series and it's the best to date. Forbes continues to build substantial and engaging characters and provide them with off-beat plots that have just a touch of the same sort of macabre detail that made Ruth Rendell irresistible.

Evil In Return begins with a dead body and a heat wave. Joe Logan was a teacher who turned into a best-selling author. His first novel is a runaway success and he's living on a boat in a London canal supposedly hard at work on his second. Then he turns up dead in a crypt in the Brompton Cemetery. No doubt it's murder. He's been shot, castrated and posed. There are no clues in his current life so Tartaglia starts examining his past. That seems blameless as well but there are four old friends who know at least one reason that someone might just want Joe dead.

This superb premise (Forbes really knows how to pace a novel) leads to the investigation, which Tartaglia inadvertently compromises, and which then leads to another murder. But who is killing and why? And what do the strange e-mail messages to the victims mean? The answers lie in a long-dead past when a group of careless college boys made a terrible mistake.

THE VILLA TRISTE By Lucretia Grindle, McArthur & Co., 546 pages, $24.95 (paper)

This novel has such a marvelous setting and great historical drama that it hardly needs a murder to get the action moving. Grindle takes us to Florence, on the eve of Italy's armistice with the Allied armies. Isabella and Caterina Cammacio are privileged young women for whom peace means love, marriage, the future. But the armistice doesn't end the war, it just changes the battlefield and the Cammacio sisters find themselves soldiers on the front lines.

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Grindle mixes a modern murder mystery with a clever historical one and both work beautifully. Readers who have no idea of the horrors the Italian partisans (many of whom were women) suffered will find the war story riveting, but the whodunit works as well.

SAINTS OF NEW YORK By R. J. Ellory, Orion, 488 pages, UK18.99

The corruption in the New York City police department never seems to lose its luster as plot fodder. In the hands of R. J. Ellory, that old trope shines like a diamond.

Frank Parrish is a detective, son of a legendary father, one of the original "Saints of New York" revered for clearing out the Mafia. Parrish's struggle is to live up to his father's name but stay true to himself. The result seems to be a never-ending face-off with his superiors and an Internal Affairs Investigation.

Then a routine investigation of the death of a heroin dealer leads Parrish to a vicious killer preying on the innocent. Parrish's search for a murderer takes him right to the edges of his own life where legend and truth meet and diverge. Ellory writes film-ready prose and you can really see this one as the pages turn.

THE DAMAGE DONE By Hilary Davidson, Forge, 352 pages, $29.99

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Fans of the late Lyn Hamilton's lovely Lara McClintock series, rejoice! Travel journalist Hilary Davidson, a Torontonian transplanted to New York City, brings us Lily Moore and the beginning of a series that will charm and delight those who love mysteries in exotic locales.

Lily is a travel writer and, this first novel, finds her in Spain, but she has to return to NYC when her sister is found dead. Or is she? This is a most promising beginning with likeable characters, a good puzzle and an excellent sense of place. Hilary Davidson is one to watch.

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