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SUSPENSE: Trio of aging, cynical crime chasers on job

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This is a tale of three crime-writing heavyweights, all offering new takes on venerable characters in the same mould.

There's no shortage of aging, alcoholic, troubled, obsessive, cynical, anti-authoritarian or relationship-challenged coppers in mystery-land -- most of them, all of the above.

But Scotsman Ian Rankin's John Rebus, Jo Nesbo's Harry Hole and Michael Connelly's Harry Bosch all enjoy pride of place in the pantheon.

Perhaps the most anticipated genre event of the fall is the return after five mournful years of Rebus, the iconic Edinburgh copper who barely made it to retirement in 2007's Exit Music.

In Standing in Another Man's Grave (Orion, 352 pages, $35), the taciturn, whisky-loving, boss-baiting curmudgeon is still on the outs, no longer a homicide inspector but a civilian working in a soon-to-be disbanded cold-case unit.

He's also decidedly out of his urban element when the pleas of a woman who won't give up on finding her daughter, missing for a dozen years, lead to the discovery of a mass grave near a remote Highlands village.

It's all classic Rebus, with a cast including his much-abused former partner Siobhan Clarke, an old nemesis who's become a near-friend (mob boss Big Ger Cafferty) and Malcolm Fox, the vastly unappealing Complaints (internal affairs) paragon of two sub-par inter-Rebus novels and now hot on our hero's tail.

They're joined by not one but two pompous, grandstanding superiors and lots of inter-constabulary rivalry, providing the requisite political grist for our hero's witty disdain.

In short, Rebus fans will rejoice that the resurrection of this Tartan Noir staple was worth the wait.

-- -- --

How to explain that the best crime mystery of 2012 (so far) was conceived in 1997 by a Norwegian stockbroker and sometime rocker on a 30-hour flight from Oslo to Sydney, Australia? Well, prepare to be gobsmacked, because The Bat is just that.

Winner of best Norwegian and best Nordic crime novel when it bore the inappropriately giggle-inducing title of Flaggermusmannen, it's the first English translation of Jo Nesbo's debut novel starring tragically driven anti-hero Harry Hole (Random House Canada, 384 pages, $25). And while all of Harry's self-destructive demons are yet to fully emerge, their spoor is manifest.

Assigned as an observer to the Aussie investigation of a murdered Norwegian barmaid in Sydney, Harry is soon knee-deep in a first-rate whodunit that gives rise to his later expertise in serial-killer hunts. It's a twisty, fast-paced concoction stocked with ample red-herrings and spiced by an aboriginal sidekick, koori lore and a prospective Swedish paramour who soon comes to her senses.

The nine-book Hole series has been called an exercise in "deconstructing Harry," with Nesbo describing his role as "surgeon" and "vulture." If so, this origin tale is both a groundbreaking operation and a sumptuous, satisfying meal.

-- -- --

It's the 20th anniversary of first Harry Bosch thriller, The Black Echo, and so arrives Michael Connelly's aptly titled 18th Bosch episode, The Black Box (Little, Brown, 416 pages, $30) to remind us of the bestselling author's now-prolific sins.

Like Rebus (and becoming a cop-career standard), the dogged L.A. detective is buried in cold-case ephemera when new ballistics data reopens a case that has haunted him -- the unsolved murder of a Danish journalist during the chaotic Rodney King riots. And that pits him against a group of Iraq War conspirators bent on keeping their secrets.

As always, Bosch is a man on a mission to champion homicide victims and redeem his one-track life, harried at each step by internal affairs and a malicious boss bent on forcing him out. That may be comforting to Bosch fans but familiarity may finally breed contempt.

Try this exercise: Go out and find The Black Echo. Then read this one. The Black Box is ample proof of this stalwart's defection to the Hollywood dark side.

John Sullivan is editor of the Free Press Autos, Homes and Travel sections and specialty websites.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition November 10, 2012 J10

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