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Insidious Intent

By Val McDermid

Raincoast, 419 pages, $37.99

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Insidious Intent is the 10th novel by Val McDermid featuring the team of psychologist Anthony Hill and Chief Inspector Carol Jordan. Both are deeply complicated people in extremely complex jobs. McDermid has popped them in and out of cases and implied romance (very complicated) and increasingly responsible jobs. Let me say that they are not about to die in this book but fans be warned, everything is about to change drastically. Do not, under any circumstances, read the end of this book first or the note by McDermid at the end. Let her talents take you where she wants you to go in her own time.

The case is frightening. A serial killer is targeting young women at weddings. He turns up as a guest, seduces his prey, leads her away, kills and burns her in her own car, simple, clean and no clues. The case is turned over to ReMIT, the new ultra-high-crimes unit headed by Jordan and Hill. The hunt begins with nothing to go on but profiling and hope. This being McDermid, there is a twist: we know the killer and the connections, so we are one step ahead of the team. Furthermore, there's an additional complication with Jordan in the form of untreated PTSD. All this comes together in an ending that hits like a bomb blast. If you've never read a Hill and Jordan, don't start here. Begin with Wire In The Blood and work up. If you're already a fan, don't miss this one and save it for the day when you want to read straight through.

The Bomb Maker

By Thomas Perry

Mysterious Press, 384 pages, $37.50

If you're tired of Christmas sweetness, read this one. Here, Thomas Perry takes us right into the mind of the scariest individual on the planet. Bomb makers are demigods, setting their charges in public places and letting the shrapnel fall where it may. The bomb maker is, literally, death.

In this case, the targets are the police bomb squads who risk their lives and limbs daily. The first bomb takes out 14 members of the LAPD's highly trained technicians and their officers. That's a 50-per-cent kill rate and it will take at least a year to train new men and women to replace them. Dick Stahl, once head of the squad, now running a lucrative private security business, is brought in as a temporary leader. Two more bombs in two days show just how cleverly the bomber is using his advantages. He obviously wants to kill policemen but are they the real targets? A metropolis without a bomb squad is at the mercy of more than one madman.

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Perry is a master of plotting and he ratchets up the suspense so tightly that I read this book in one 12-hour run. Most readers know him from his Jane Whitefield "disappeared" series. His thrillers, of which this is one of the best, are even better.

Alive in Shape and Color

Edited by Lawrence Block

Pegasus Books, 304 pages, $34.95

Crime fans and devotees of The New Yorker are some of the most serious of short-story readers. There are usually several crime anthologies each year and some might introduce new authors or showcase those writers who don't do novels. All are not created equal. This collection, edited by Lawrence Block, is superb, a followup to last year's brilliant collection based on the paintings of Edward Hopper. Shape and Color's tales are each derived from a single painting by a well-known artist. The idea is clever and the execution terrific. There's not a weak story in the bunch.

Best of the bunch, to me, is Girl with a Fan by Nicholas Christopher, based on the painting by Gauguin, and delivers a tightly constructed tale set in wartime France. Christopher is a poet as well as a novelist and it shows. He writes with a painter's eye. Second best of a truly fine bunch is Les Beaux Jours by Joyce Carol Oates, a creepy little child's voice story that will haunt after they finish. Fans will find good shorts from everyone from Michael Connelly to Jeffery Deaver, but save time for a lovely piece by Gail Levin and there are some names to note in the rest. Best of all, there's not a clinker in the lot and all the stories are new to publication.

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