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Blue Lightning By Ann Cleeves, Macmillan, 357 pages, $29.99

Readers who haven't already discovered Britain's brilliant Ann Cleeves are in for a treat. Blue Lightning is the fourth and final novel in her series set in the Shetland Islands, and it's the best only because it's the last. But don't begin here; get to the bookstore and get Raven Black, White Nights and Red Bones, the first three in the series.

Like the marvellous P.D. James, Cleeves uses setting to drive both character and narrative. The Shetlands - small, isolated, with a unique culture - is the perfect spot for her, and her detective, Inspector James (Jimmy) Perez is the perfect copper.

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In this final episode, Jimmy returns to his childhood home on Fair Isle (where the knits come from) to celebrate his upcoming marriage to his beloved Fran. It's to be a holiday, a time for Fran to bond with his family, for him to introduce her to his childhood haunts.

But weather spoils the trip. A storm moves in, everyone is trapped indoors. It's Fair Isle at its deadly worst. Then a murder at the local nature conservancy takes Jimmy back into action, alone, without his squad, isolated and fearing the worst.

Any more would be a spoiler, but this gloss on the old locked-room plot is a doozy. There is even a mention of Dame Agatha's Ten Little Indians, in case you miss the twist, but the end of this one is a shocker. Don't, whatever you do, skip to the end. The Shetland quartet has been optioned for television, so we can expect to see it soon, but do read the novels first and relish the Shetlands as Cleeves intended.



Dying Gasp By Leighton Gage, Soho, 274 pages, $28

This is the third novel by Gage featuring the Brazilian detective Chief Inspector Mario Silva, and after reading it, I dashed out to get the other two. Gage, an American married to a Brazilian, gives us the perfect outsider's inside look at a system hobbled by nepotism, bribery and corruption, but which, at the same time, delivers justice.

The plot is both simple and complex. It begins in Amsterdam, where a terrorist blows up a building and, incidentally, a postal van. The postal inspector assigned to sort out the damaged mail makes a gruesome discovery and turns it in to the police.

Meanwhile, in Brazil, the daughter of a high government official has gone missing. Chief Inspector Silva is assigned to the task of finding her. It is clear from the outset that there are many mysteries here, not the least of which is why the family waited for weeks to notify the police.

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At the same time, Gage takes us into the terrified world of a girl destined for sex slavery. He works all the themes together in a masterful plot that combines solid police work, clever timing and excellent pacing. Dying Gasp is the best of the three Silva novels I've read, but I loved the other two as well. This is a writer to watch.



Snow Angels By James Thompson, Putnam's, 272 pages, $31

James Thompson is an American from Kentucky who has lived for the past decade in Finland. That eccentric background alone is enough to recommend this wonderful debut novel. Thompson combines the American passion for tough guys with a genuine love for his adopted homeland. Like many other previous mystery writers, he wants to use the form to introduce us to another culture that he knows and respects.

Thompson's detective is Inspector Kari Vaara, head of a small-town department in the far north. Unlike his complicated Scandinavian cousins, Vaara is a rather stolid copper who sticks to the rules, including the political ones. Thompson is following the vein mined by Simenon here and, as always, it works. Vaara's wife, Kate, is an American hired to managed the ritzy ski resort that is supposed to turn this part of Finland into tourist heaven. When a Somali celebrity is found murdered and mutilated on a field near a local reindeer farm, it opens up a Pandora's Box of horrors, including incipient racism and a media firestorm. The guys down south don't think the local cop can solve the crime.

Snow Angels is great for the first two thirds, then Thompson falls into a first novelist's trap. He's got one plotline too many, and you can see him scurrying to tie up the loose ends. Still, this is a fine beginning to what I think will become an excellent series.





Mexico City Noir Edited by Paco Ignacio Taibo II, Akashic, 170 pages, $18.50

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The latest in this amazing series of short-story collections set in cities around the world is perfectly edited and selected by Paco Ignacio Taibo II, author of the wonderful series, also set in Mexico City, featuring Hector Belascoran Shayne. No one but Taibo could have so perfectly captured the sounds, scenes and conflicts of this huge, sprawling megacity.

Like the others, this book is divided into the neighbourhoods of the city, with the short stories using the settings as both inspiration and illustration. All the pieces are short and all are excellent. This (and this whole series) is the perfect way for readers to discover new and exciting voices in crime fiction.



Sleepless By Charlie Huston, Ballantine, 353 pages, $29.95

Sleepless is a strange and compelling crossover novel with a haunting premise. A plague has struck the world, a disease that first robs victims of sleep, then develops into an agonizing death. Parker Hass is a cop trying to maintain justice in Los Angeles. He's also faced with a dying wife and a newborn child. And he's about to enter the radar of a contract killer. Huston works all of this beautifully.



Pleasantly Dead By Judith Alguire, Signature, 185 pages, $16.95

Kingston author Judith Alguire intends this as the beginning of a series, and if you like the cute, traditional mystery, this is it. Trevor and Margaret Rudley are the owners of the Pleasant Inn, a charming hotel in Ontario cottage country. It's summer, and the tourists are about to arrive when a dead body appears in the wine cellar. Detective Michael Brisbois represents the police, and an eccentric guest, Miss Miller, represents the Miss Marple school of investigation. Much jollity ensues. This is a nice, light, afternoon read.

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