WINNIPEGGER Michael Van Rooy's debut mystery novel is astonishingly good.

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This article was published 13/11/2005 (5826 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

WINNIPEGGER Michael Van Rooy's debut mystery novel is astonishingly good.

A Decent Ordinary Criminal (Ravenstone, 340 pages, $12) is funny, fast-paced and so hugely compelling it's hard to put down. Van Rooy has all the elements -- a terrific protagonist, a twisting plot and a writing style that snaps along.

Monty Haaviko, now known as Parker, is a career criminal trying to go straight. It would be a first for a man with almost as many aliases as he has convictions. But he's kicked the drugs that nearly claimed him, married a good woman and had a son.

It looks like Winnipeg may be a place to settle.

That's until three men break into his house and he kills them all. He's hauled off to the Public Safety Building and beaten within an inch of his life. When he regains consciousness, he's got a lawyer and the cops claim to have a confession. That's just the beginning of his problems.

Van Rooy neatly details the criminal underworld, filled with petty drug dealers, shady characters and the police who pursue them. Local readers will enjoy the occasional reference to Winnipeg landmarks but, more than that, they'll enjoy the skill of the author.

Here's hoping Monty Haaviko will be part of a continuing series for Ravenstone, an imprint of Winnipeg-based Turnstone Press.

Jamaica Me Dead (St. Martin's Minotaur, 291 pages, $31), Bob Morris sophomore effort, is a terrific romp. Former pro football star Zack Chasteen is invited to Jamaica by an old teammate, ostensibly to offer protection to the owner of a series of adult-themed resorts.

But Monk DeVane is blown to bits as Chasteen arrives on the island and he's left to figure out who killed him and who might be after Darcy Whitehall, owner of Libido resorts. Fairly quickly, his own life is threatened as he becomes enmeshed in political turmoil, family conflict and a nasty bit of money laundering.

Morris, a Florida author, has a great sense of humour, and his descriptions of naked waterslide rides are as funny as anything Carl Hiassen has ever written.

It must be winter holiday time because mysteries set in the islands are popping up everywhere. Pain Killer (William Morrow, 352 pages, $35) finds retired CIA operative W. Cooper living the quiet life in the British Virgin Islands. Quiet, that is, until the local authorities request his help identifying a bullet-ridden corpse. He's quickly drawn back into the world of intrigue.

In the meantime, a junior CIA agent named Julie Laramie uncovers evidence of a massive arms build up in China. Her supervisors tell her to back off but she can't resist snooping.

The cases, inevitably, bring the agents together in a chase to uncover the bad guys.

Mary Janice Davidson's Undead and Unreturnable (Berkley Sensation, 250 pages, $31) is one weird book. Our heroine, Betsy Taylor, is a Minneapolis vampire. Yep, an undead Minnesotan. She's a wise-cracking gal trying to celebrate Christmas while getting a little blood-sucking done.

This book redefines "niche." That is not a good thing.

Free Press columnist Lindor Reynolds' mystery roundup runs on the second Sunday of the month.