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Sweden gets a new Lisbeth Salander, and other recent crime fiction

Detail from the cover of ‘The Andalucian Friend’

The Andalucian Friend
By Alexander Soderberg, translated by Neil Smith, Crown, 464 pages, $29.95

Every Swedish mystery novel with a female protagonist is measured against the Millennium Trilogy and Lisbeth Salander. Alexander Soderberg's terrific novel (first of a planned trilogy) is the first to come close. His plot is too convoluted and his woman too thin a character, but all the promise is there.

The story is centred on Sophie Brinkmann, widow, nurse, mother to a teenaged boy. Her centre is a sleepy Stockholm suburb. All that changes when she gets a new patient. Hector Guzman is Spanish, elegant, romantic, everything a lonely single mother needs. Before you can say "Bueno," Sophie is infatuated, not only with Hector but with his entire family.

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This being a thriller and not a romance, we all know that the adorable Hector will turn from prince to toad. Sophie soon learns that trouble follows her charming Andalucian friend. His stylish publishing career is a front for a dangerous criminal network that runs from Spain across Europe. Sophie's life is in danger, along with the lives of her family, and the police will not protect her.

There are twists galore in this fat thriller (about 100 pages too long) and some excess plot lines that detract from the essential narrative, but those are minor problems in an otherwise brilliant debut. Sophie Brinkmann and Alexander Soderberg are names to remember.

Criminal Enterprise
By Owen Laukkanen, Putnam, 416 pages, $28

The Professionals, Vancouver author Owen Laukkanen's debut novel, introduced the team of FBI Special Agent Carla Windermere and Minnesota state investigator Kirk Stevens. The book was highly and rightly praised, and went on to be short-listed for an Edgar Award. Criminal Enterprise is even better than The Professionals. In this second instalment of the Windermere-Stevens series, Laukkanen has a plot line built on the death of the American Dream. Carter Tomlin of St. Paul, Minn., is a happy man, at least on the surface. He has the pretty wife and adorable kids, a lovely house in a nice part of town. Trouble is, it's all falling apart. Tomlin has lost his job, and keeping up appearances has dragged him deeper and deeper into debt. What to do? Why, rob the banks who lent you the money. If Laukkanen stopped here, he'd have a nice little modern parable. But there's far more to Tomlin, as Windermere and Stevens soon learn. As Bonnie and Clyde knew, robbing banks gives you more than cash; it gives you a rush of pure adrenalin that leads, inevitably, to Very Bad Things. Windermere and Stevens have to catch Tomlin before those things happen.

The Black Ace
By G.B. Joyce, Penguin, 368 pages, $22

I loved Gare Joyce's debut novel, The Code. Now, he and his hockey scout hero, Brad Shade, return for a second time in a terrific tale of sport and murder. Joyce knows how to open a novel. In the first three pages of The Black Ace, a slow and slovenly employee opens a gas station/garage in Swift Current, Sask., and finds a corpse in a Mercedes. It has all the signs of a suicide, but the dead man was a hockey great, an old teammate of Brad Shade's back in the day in L.A. A trip for the funeral turns out to be a walk on the dark and wild side of small-town Canada. The Black Ace is pure mystery and suspense, with great characters and a well-designed plot. Brad Shade is ready for a long run.

The Third Riel Conspiracy
By Stephen Legault, TouchWood, 264 pages, $14.95

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Once again, Stephen Legault brings in a great historical mystery. Legault, from Canmore, Alta., has combined a murder, a Mountie and the Battle of Batoche in a slick whodunit that brings back Sergeant Durrant Wallace of the North-West Mounted Police, the investigator featured in The End of the Line, and it's a great return engagement. It's 1885, and the North West Rebellion is surging. In the midst of the carnage at Batoche, Reuben Wake is killed – not by a rebel bullet, but as an act of willful murder. A suspect is quickly found and jailed, but he claims his innocence. It's up to Wallace to sort out the clues and find out just what happened in the chaos of the battle. It's Legault's excellent research that makes this novel work. Think Canadian history is dull? Think again.

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