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Norwegian crime fiction writer Jo Nesbø.


Norwegian crime fiction writer Jo Nesbø.

Time to recap some of the best mysteries and crime novels of 2013, a truly suspenseful year.

Top of the pops is a double dose of Harry Hole from the best in the biz, Norway's Jo Nesbø: the bedeviled Oslo cop's second appearance in 1998's Cockroaches (Random House, 400 pages, $25), new to English translation, and Police (Random House, 528 pages, $25), his latest outing.

In the earlier, formative tale, a 30-something Harry, just discovering the depth of human degradation, nasty police politics and personal loss, lands in Thailand after the body of Norway's ambassador is found in a seedy Bangkok motel. Though a bit too clever with its array of who- and howdunit plot details, Cockroaches nicely foreshadows Harry's future tribulations.

Fast-forward to Oslo in the near-present for Police, which sees a much more battered and world-weary Harry drawn from semi-retirement to pursue a serial killer stalking cops involved in previously unsolved murders. While Nesbø ratchets up the suspense on multiple fronts, this is a more conventional cop procedural than usual, with fewer nightmarish stream-of-consciousness interludes and less Harry-esque introspection.

Seven for a Secret, by Lyndsay Faye (Amy Einhorn/Putnam, 464 pages, $29): Like 2012's The Gods of Gotham, a remarkable evocation of 1840s New York and its fledgling police force. Fire-scarred, over-curious "copper star" Timothy Wilde and his "three-quarters despicable" brother Valentine pursue "blackbirders," slave-catchers who prey on free blacks as well as runaway slaves.

A Conspiracy of Faith, by Jussi Adler-Olson (Dutton, 512 pages, $29): Denmark's top-selling crime writer wraps social commentary in wrenching psycho-thrillers, this time tackling the hypocrisies of fundamentalist religious cultures. While this third tale starring disaffected Copenhagen detective Carl Mrck is as twisty, complex and suspenseful as its predecessors, the author's true forte is his raw and empathic portraiture of victims and villains alike.

The Ghost Riders of Ordebec, by Fred Vargas (Harvill Secker, 362 pages, $23): A woman's visions of a phantom medieval army scooping up local villains draws Jean-Baptiste Adamsberg to a Normandy village. This ethereal Parisian flic is a true European original.

Lexicon, by Max Barry (Penguin, 400 pages, $29): This scary-plausible brain-twister posits a shadowy organization of "poets" that develops the art of persuasion into a science of coercion. Funny, frantic and fascinating.

Let It Burn, by Steve Hamilton (Minotaur, 288 pages, $30): This is a tale of two summers, decades apart, and second chances — for retired, bullet-ridden Detroit cop Alex McKnight, the black kid he helped nail for the murder of a white woman, the families of both victim and perp... and, wistfully, for Motown itself.

Gun Machine, by Warren Ellis (Mulholland, 320 pages, $29): A burned-out, unloved NYPD detective stumbles on a locked-down apartment full of guns — all arranged in a meticulous pattern, all used in unsolved homicides over two decades.

Snow White Must Die, by Nele Neuhaus (Minotaur, 384 pages, $29). German star Neuhaus crafts a deliciously tangled village whodunit in this fourth pairing of Frankfurt detectives Pia Kirchhoff and Oliver von Bodenstein.

Sandrine's Case, by Thomas H. Cook (Mysterious Press, 352 pages, $29): A riveting literary parable of love lived, lost and regained, all conveyed through the jolting memories, reflections and revelations of a small-town college professor as he is tried for murdering his brilliant wife.

Countdown City, Ben H. Winters (Quirk, 320 pages, $15): There are just 77 days before an asteroid smashes into Indonesia, but former New Hampshire cop Hank Palace is doggedly trying to find a friend's missing husband. Winters won an Edgar Award for The Last Policeman, the first of a sci-fi/mystery trilogy, and this quixotic sequel mirrors that humane, melancholy excellence.

A Nasty Piece of Work, by Robert Littell (Thomas Dunne, 272 pages, $29): Part-time New Mexico PI and full-time wise guy Lemuel Gunn tracks a bail-jumping mobster who's blown FBI witness-protection. Gunn is a keeper.


Associate Editor John Sullivan runs the Free Press Autos, Homes and Travel sections and specialty websites.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition January 11, 2014 A1


Updated on Saturday, January 11, 2014 at 8:30 AM CST: Tweaks formatting, adds photo.

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