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SUSPENSE: Dark-horse Dane enters Eurocrime poker game

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 2/9/2011 (3316 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Until now, Denmark has been a bit player in publishing's high-stakes Eurocrime poker game ("see your Swede, raise you two Norwegians") aimed at capitalizing on the global Stieg Larsson phenomenon.

But while Sweden's Henning Mankell cashes in his Wallander chips and Norway's Jo Nesbø is on a fast run, a dark-horse Dane named Jussi Adler-Olson has just bellied up to the table with a mountain of chips.

Jussi Adler-Olson holds a good hand.

Jussi Adler-Olson holds a good hand.

After a murder-scene ambush leaves one partner dead and another paralyzed, Copenhagen's Det. Carl Mørck is The Keeper of Lost Causes (Dutton, 400 pages, $30), dumped in the basement as a one-man cold-case department. Belligerently disaffected and chronically lazy (agreeing to therapy only in hopes of shagging the crisis counsellor), the last thing Mørck wants is a case.

Then he gets an oddly proficient Syrian refugee named Assad as a civilian assistant and somehow the file on the five-year-old disappearance of an up-and-coming woman politico gets to the top of the pile -- and it all goes to hell.

Alternating perspectives and time-frames, Adler-Olson seamlessly melds quirky, angst-driven police-procedural with a gut-wrenching psychological portrayal of long-term captivity. But, rare to the point of singularity for such a grim tale, it's often laugh-out-loud funny -- yes, in a Scando novel!

The first in a series to be (beautifully) translated into English, The Keeper is a keeper.

-- -- --

Festooned with sorcerers and demons in a pre-industrial otherworld setting, Low Town (Doubleday, 352 pages, $29) could have easily collapsed into a cross-genre morass. Instead, this debut by Maryland native Daniel Polansky is a fantasy-crime hybrid with serious noir chops.

Someone -- or something -- is killing children in the slums of Rigus, chief city of the Thirteen Lands, and a former secret police agent (now dubbed the Warden of Low Town for his drug-dealing expertise) is bullied and bloodied by his ex-colleagues into an investigation brimming with dark wizardry and darker politics.

Gritty, cryptically funny and relentlessly inventive, Low Town offers a magical twist to the standard anti-hero potboiler.

-- -- --

Sebastian Rotella, a former L.A. Times journalist and veteran border-watcher, is well-qualified to whip up a tale of drug wars, human smuggling, assassination, crooked cops and corrupt politicians on both sides of the U.S.-Mexico divide.

Titled after a burgeoning Wild West smuggling nexus at the Brazil-Paraguay-Argentina borders, Triple Crossing (Mulholland, 416 pages, $28) pivots on the conscription of a rookie border patrol cop as an undercover agent in a U.S. anti-corruption drive. Valentine Pescatore's acceptance into a murderously crazy Mexican drug-lord's crew may be a tad unlikely, but the scenario offers a fascinating conduit into the multilateral drug politics infesting North, Central and South America.

In its clear-cut authenticity, it's a dangerous book. As a thriller, it's a terrific debut.

SHORT STROKES

Darkness, My Old Friend, by Lisa Unger (Crown, 368 pages, $27): This character-driven sequel to last year's Fragile sees now-former cop Jones Cooper, his psychologist wife Maggie and psychic Eloise Montgomery drawn into a 25-year-old missing-persons case in the town of Hollows, N.Y. Nothing terribly objectionable -- or original -- but a solid effort.

Cold Vengeance, by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child (Grand Central, 368 pages, $30): If you haven't come across any of the 10 previous FBI Special Agent Pendergast novels by this longtime writing team, don't start with this one. A hundred pages in, you'll still have no idea what's going on. And if that doesn't deter you, the hither-and-yon narrative will bring duct tape to mind.

The Twelfth Enchantment, by David Liss (Random House, 416 pages, $30): Essaying a "period" thriller, particularly in aid of literary aspirations, is a crapshoot, prone to a certain trite preciousness. Lumber it with British Industrial Revolution politics, a nefarious Lord Byron and magic (a neophyte witch, undead folks and the scramble for missing illustrations from a mystical tome) and it stumbles over the precipice.

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

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