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SUSPENSE: No messing up

Second novel in Stockholm Noir trilogy should make star of Swedish writer

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Lapidus writes with unexpected pathos and compassion about a dark, brutal world.

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Lapidus writes with unexpected pathos and compassion about a dark, brutal world.

Easy Money, a gritty gangland debut by young Stockholm criminal defence lawyer Jens Lapidus, took Sweden and much of the continent by storm when it was published in 2006. It has since generated the highest-grossing film in Sweden's history.

Still, despite a planned U.S. movie version in the works, Easy Money was largely overlooked when it was published in English here last year.

Now, the second in his Stockholm Noir trilogy, Never Screw Up (Pan Macmillan, 491 pages, $20), has just arrived in an excellent translation, and things should change quickly for Lapidus.

A mangled body found in a rundown apartment sparks the convergence of three seedy narrators: Mahmud, a juiced-up bodybuilding thug, drug dealer and hooker-minder who loves the high life but hates his Yugoslavian crime-masters and fears his straight-laced father's disapproval; Thomas, a tough, old-school street cop who becomes obsessed with the murder despite a demotion and official barriers; and Niklas, an ex-mercenary whose traumatic childhood propels a murderous crusade on behalf of abused women.

It's a dark, volatile and brutal world where most would fear to tread. Fortunately, Lapidus does not, and the result is a fascinating tale of unexpected pathos and compassion.

-- -- --

Sam Madison is "a cold fish" -- cynical, condescending, emotionally distant and contemptuous of students and faculty alike at the small Georgia college where he and his brilliant wife, Sandrine, both teach. So, no one, including his loyal but doubtful daughter, is terribly sympathetic when he's charged with staging her overdose of pills and booze as a suicide.

Sandrine's Case (Mysterious Press, 352 pages, $29), the latest from unfailingly erudite, Edgar Award-winning American author Thomas H. Cook, is a riveting literary parable of love lived, lost and regained, all conveyed through the jolting memories, reflections and revelations forced upon Sam during the course of a nail-biting murder trial.

That Sandrine herself emerges fully drawn from these contemplations, the prime mover of a cathartic, unforeseen resolution, is just the crowning triumph of this masterwork of rare redemptive power.

-- -- --

With his first two novels, Anglo-American author Jason Webster propelled Valencia Chief Inspector Max Camara into the beloved ranks of odd and cerebral Euro-cops. Like Donna Leon's Brunetti in Venice and Fred Vargas' Adamsberg in Paris, Camara is a quiet renegade, a secret conspirator, in the Spanish National Police.

The Anarchist Detective (Chatto & Windus, 256 pages), is now on extended leave, caring for his ailing and abrasive grandfather Hilario in their home town of Albacete. But a young girl's murder stirs memories of his sister's similar fate, while a mass grave of Franco Civil War victims may include the body of Camara's own great-grandfather. And then he stumbles on a scandal in La Mancha's famed saffron trade.

While a confluence of murder, past and present, drives this quirky tale, it's surely the acerbic yet deeply affectionate sparring of Max and Hilario that elevates it to a memorable gem.

-- -- --

Countdown City, Ben H. Winters (Quirk, 320 pages, $15): There's 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. What else is there to do with the apocalypse coming and civilization crumbling?

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.

-- -- --

The Devil and the River, R. J. Ellory (Orion, 352 pages, $35): A decades-old voodoo-tinged murder, Southern Gothic trappings and villainous denizens of 1970s Mississippi power and privilege -- what's not to like? Sure, it's James Lee Burke Lite, with Vietnam War-haunted Sheriff John Gaines a rather pale version of Dave Robicheaux. But the story that emerges with the body of a missing teenage girl on a muddy riverbank is still a compelling, if somewhat long-winded, summer read.

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

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition August 10, 2013 A1

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