So many books, so little space. Here are some favorites from 2004, in the hopes that they can lighten the dark days ahead. Happy holidays! "Medusa" by Michael Dibdin (Pantheon...

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So many books, so little space. Here are some favorites from 2004, in the hopes that they can lighten the dark days ahead. Happy holidays!


“Medusa”

by Michael Dibdin (Pantheon). In Italy’s far north, policeman Aurelio Zen’s investigation of a death leads to the discovery of a secret military force and some murky political coverups concerning its existence. Enough espresso is drunk to keep anyone operatic with caffeine.

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“The New Annotated Sherlock Holmes”
by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (Norton). This gorgeous, heavily illustrated two-volume set of the first 56 Sherlock Holmes stories is sagely edited by top Holmesian Leslie Klinger and pithily introduced by John le Carré. Give it to your resident Holmes fanatic; he or she will be yours forever.

“The Bookman’s Promise”
by John Dunning (Scribner) Cliff Janeway — ex-cop turned book dealer — loves rare volumes and is unafraid of battling hard to protect them. When an elderly lady claims that a valuable first edition is just part of a priceless (and potentially explosive) collection, Janeway’s off to the races.


“Pyro”

by Earl Emerson (Random House). The Seattle Fire Department’s Emerson returns to the milieu he knows best: scary blazes. This story about a Seattle fire lieutenant and his pyromaniac nemesis puts us right in the middle of the inferno.

“Ten Big Ones”
by Janet Evanovich (St. Martin’s). Jersey girl and bounty hunter Stephanie Plum gets her car firebombed in the opening scene, and things go downhill after that. Stephanie’s friends and family are still daffy, but the plot (she’s marked for murder) is darker than usual for this zesty series.

“The Murder Room”
by P.D. James (Vintage). James’ nonpareil hero, Commander Adam Dalgleish, investigates a bizarre death at a private London museum that mimics an event detailed in its most popular exhibit. As always, James’ plotting is crisp and her characters indelible.


“The Game”

by Laurie R. King (Bantam). Sherlock Holmes, thank goodness, rises again. King’s pastiches nimbly imagine the Great Detective in semiretirement with a wife and partner who’s his equal in brains and nerve; here, they travel to India to rescue another immortal literary creation, Kipling’s Kim.

“The Hamilton Case”
by Michelle de Kretser (Little, Brown). Set in 1930s Ceylon, this book luxuriates in prose as lush as a tropical jungle. A poignant meditation on colonialism, family ties, race, and national identity, it centers on a complacent lawyer and an enigmatic slaying.

“Mr. Paradise”
by Elmore Leonard (Morrow). Leonard, for my money the reigning King Daddy of crime fiction, is at the top of his gleeful game here. Rich, retired lawyer Tony Paradiso’s paid girlfriend talks her roommate into joining some naughty fun; the result is a slinky group tango involving mistaken identity, murder, a mendacious Man Friday and a shrewd cop.


“A Spectacle of Corruption”

by David Liss (Ballantine). Two-fisted Benjamin Weaver, an 18th-century bodyguard and bounty hunter, narrates this evocative and intelligent historical mystery about attempts to sway a parliamentary election.

“Little Scarlet”
by Walter Mosley (Little, Brown). Easy Rawlins — black man, veteran, reluctant private eye — investigates a murder during the 1965 Watts Riot. In this simply told, richly nuanced story, Easy’s meditations on the violence are key; he’s saddened and fearful, but exhilarated at witnessing a turning point in racial history.

“Absent Friends”
by S.J. Rozan (Delacorte). In New York just after 9/11, a reporter researching a series on heroes finds clues that the life of a fire captain killed in the line of duty was less than savory. The result is an intricate, heartbreaking elegy about secrets, loyalty and our primal need for heroes.

Seattle writer Adam Woog’s column on mystery

and crime fiction appears on the second Sunday

of the month in The Seattle Times.