This month's offerings feature four Northwest writers and two from far away. "The Inside Ring" (Doubleday, 336 pp., $24.95) begins with a bang...

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This month’s offerings feature four Northwest writers and two from far away.

“The Inside Ring” (Doubleday, 336 pp., $24.95) begins with a bang — a presidential assassination attempt exposes a gap in the Secret Service’s cordon of protection. Joey DeMarco, a tough but likable congressional fixer, is assigned to plug the leak.

In his debut, Seattleite Michael Lawson shows a knack for sketching realistic characters, even minor ones, in deft and nuanced strokes. Lawson is droll, writes sharp dialogue, and (as a former civilian contractor for the Navy) seems to know his way around Beltway politicking. The book’s second half moves, disappointingly, into more conventional action-thriller land, but most of “The Inside Ring” is superior to that — reminiscent of the cynical but bemused espionage tales that the late Ross Thomas wrote.

Sequim resident Aaron Elkins’ “Where There’s a Will” (Berkley, 284 pp., $23.95) stars his most popular character: forensic anthropologist Gideon Oliver, aka the Skeleton Detective. The perennially sunny Oliver never fails to find intrigue in old bones, and this time he does so while vacationing in Hawaii.

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The case involves two brothers — one murdered, one missing. They were the patriarchs of a wealthy farming family, the members of which have their own reasons for prevaricating about the truth. As always in this series, arcane forensic information is dispensed with abundant good cheer and minimal fuss.

Readers who, in their callow youth, ate up teen-sleuth books will get a major kick out of “Confessions of a Teen Sleuth” (Bloomsbury, 160 pp., $15.95), a slim and delicious parody by Portland humor writer Chelsea Cain. Apparently, Nancy Drew really existed — it’s just that her stories were co-opted by former friend Carolyn Keene, who made a fortune off them.

Now the plucky detective tells all, breathlessly relating her adventures, post-teen, with Nazis, Commies, beatniks, hippies, an unhappy marriage and more. All of Nancy’s chums are here, inlcuding special friend Ned Nickerson and secret love Frank Hardy. Cain nails the tone of the vintage books with affection and wit, and she doesn’t forget to use lots of exclamation points!


Michael Lawson



The author
of “The Inside Ring” will appear at the Seattle Mystery Bookshop
Saturday (206-587-5737).

Montana legend James Crumley’s earlier crime novels (“The Mexican Tree Duck,” “Bordersnakes”) are darkly funny, tough as beef jerky, and stuffed with startling language and imagery. “The Right Madness” (Viking, 289 pp., $24.95) is all that, plus it’s over-the-top weird to boot.

Private eye C.W. Sugrue (“Shoog as in sugar, rue as in rue the !@##$% day”) agrees to find some missing files for a psychiatrist friend. But O, that way madness lies: Someone’s killing the doc’s patients, and as Sugrue careers between Montana and Seattle, he slides into a very strange and self-destructive trip — a procession of whiskey binges, slatternly women and escalating (and increasingly unlikely) violence. Not for the fainthearted, and even diehard Crumley fans may find it too much.

With the success of Alexander McCall Smith’s No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency series, many of his earlier works are being reprinted, but the No. 1 books remain his most rewarding. Irresistibly charming case in point: “In the Company of Cheerful Ladies” (Pantheon, 233 pp., $19.95), in which Botswana’s premiere lady detective, Precious Ramotswe, deals wisely with such mysteries as the appearance of a pumpkin in her yard and the disappearance of an apprentice from her husband’s car-repair shop.

“Bangkok Tattoo” (Knopf, 302 pp., $24) is the second in John Burdett’s exotic, finely detailed series about Detective Sonchai Jitpleecheep of the Royal Thai Police. Half-American, half-Thai, the son of a renowned prostitute and a devout Buddhist wise in the manifold paths of human pleasure, Sonchai is an erudite and surprising guide through Bangkok’s nightlife; seen through his serene eyes, it’s equal parts seamy and sweet. Here, Sonchai and his cheerfully corrupt boss, Colonel Vikorn, investigate the murder of a CIA operative in Bangkok’s pleasure quarter. When it appears certain that Sonchai’s prostitute friend Chanya stabbed the guy, the cops concoct a ridiculous cover-up to protect her — but the scheme backfires.

Seattle writer Adam Woog’s column

on mystery and crime fiction appears

on the second Sunday of the month
in The Seattle Times.