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Review: New crime fiction from Andrew Taylor, Brenda Chapman and Claudia Pineiro

Betty Boo by Claudia Pineiro.

The Ashes Of London

By Andrew Taylor

HarperCollins, 496 pages, $34.99

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The Great Fire of London forms both the opening and the backdrop of this brilliant historical mystery by Andrew Taylor (The American Boy, The Scent of Death), one of Britain's best authors. It's 1666 and the charm of the Restoration is wearing thin. Religion still holds the country in thrall. There are continuing fears of plague and then comes the conflagration. James Marwood saves a boy from certain death in a fire in St. Paul's and thus opens the door to a very different future.

Meanwhile, a man is dead, possibly murdered, in the charred ruins of the cathedral. Marwood is a pauper, his father's printing business ruined by the Restoration and his father imprisoned and then released to his custody. He supports the two of them on his salary as a minor clerk, but someone has an eye on him and knows he can be frightened or blackmailed .

As a reluctant government informant, he is brought into the world of a woman who dreams of architecture and Dr. Christopher Wren, who plans a new London from the ashes. This novel has everything one could want in a summer book.

Tumbled Graves

By Brenda Chapman

Dundurn, 392 pages, $14.99

Brenda Chapman's team of Jacques Rouleau and Kala Stonechild return in the third – and best – in this solid series. Catherine Lockhart stands in front of a charming house on a country lane – the sort of Southern Ontario locale we dream of. Lockhart is concerned because her neighbour Adele Delaney and her daughter Violet have missed a playdate with the Lockharts. Standing in front of Adele's house, Catherine is initially perplexed but then, as she sees open doors and breakfast uneaten in the kitchen, she knows that something awful has happened.

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Cut to Jacques Rouleau, whose wife is dying. He can't go to the scene, so he sends Kala Stonechild and Paul Gundersund to investigate. They have personal issues of their own that have to take a backseat to the missing mother and child. Then Adele turns up dead, her body tossed onto the side of the road. Is Violet dead, missing or worse? Chapman wrings every bit of suspense out of this tightly plotted novel.

Betty Boo

By Claudia Pineiro, translated by Miranda France

Bitter Lemon Press, 320 pages, $21.95

How have we not heard of Claudia Pineiro – dubbed "the Patricia Highsmith of Argentina" – before now? Betty Boo is smart, funny and full of inventive characters, beginning with our heroine, crime novelist Nurit Iscar, known to her fans as Betty Boo.

The setting is Buenos Aires and, if you need any other reason to read this book, there's a rich man murdered at a ritzy private club and a crime reporter known as "Crime Boy." The dead man is irrelevant in the best tradition of MacGuffins. Crime Boy is way out of his league and turns to a veteran journalist whose secret source is Ms. Boo.

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This intrepid trio sets out to uncover what happened, which takes us into every dive, cabana and mansion where a killer could hide. There's more than one murder and many, many suspects. All this ties up with a twist ending that I'm not about to give away. There are five more Pineiro books in translation and they should bring Pineiro the international stardom she deserves.

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