V. I. Warshawski's attitude can be off-putting (the permanent chip on her shoulder, for instance, can be annoying). But Sara Paretsky's books...

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V.I. Warshawski’s attitude can be off-putting (the permanent chip on her shoulder, for instance, can be annoying). But Sara Paretsky’s books about the Chicago gumshoe also feature rich plots and solid prose — and it’s heartening to see Warshawski still proud of her blue-collar roots and dedicated to liberal causes.

In “Fire Sale” (Putnam, 402 pp., $25.95), the detective discovers ugly goings-on while hunting for the missing scion of a wealthy, overbearing corporate family. Meanwhile, she’s talked into coaching the girls’ basketball team at her old, beleaguered high school. A poignant subplot here involves a player with Long Q-T Syndrome, a heart ailment.

In G.M. Ford’s “No Man’s Land” (Morrow, 310 pp., $16.95), Timothy Driver — a scarily efficient ex-Navy hotshot serving two life sentences for murder — masterminds a break from a high-tech Arizona prison and heads for the hills. He’s got plenty of pursuers.

True-crime writer Frank Corso — the irascible heart of Seattle author Ford’s turbo-charged thrillers — once wrote a book about Driver and has his own reasons for tracking the killer down. Since Corso may know where Driver is headed, the FBI is eager to keep tabs on both bad guy and writer. And then there’s the anchor for a TV tabloid show, who sees the unfolding story as a way to bolster her ratings — and who becomes Corso’s unlikely ally. Corso has always been a real piece of work, but Driver, chewing the scenery relentlessly, nearly steals the show here.

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Baltimore writer Laura Lippman excels in her ability to create moving situations and full-blooded characters that slowly, chillingly reveal their secrets. In “To the Power of Three” (Morrow, 432 pp., $24.95), this tough-minded but compassionate writer explores the tricky world of adolescence and the teen years.

Three girls have been shot in a bathroom at a suburban high school. Kat is dead; Josie slightly wounded, Perri critically so. As families and community grieve, a weary and kindhearted detective asks unsettling questions: Did Perri shoot the others, then try to kill herself? What is Josie holding back? And what drove these three — best friends since childhood — to drift apart in recent years?

Seattle Fire Department Lt. Earl Emerson’s second career as a writer really started hitting its stride with stand-alone thrillers (“Pyro,” “Into the Inferno”) about the dangerous but alluring world of firefighting, a world Emerson depicts with skill and verve.

Coming up

G.M. Ford


The author of “No Man’s Land” will read at 6:30 p.m. July 23 at Lake Forest Park’s Third Place Books (206-366-3333; www.thirdplacebooks.com).

Steve Martini


The author of “Double Tap” will sign books at noon July 28 at the Seattle Mystery Bookshop (206-587-5737; www.seattlemystery.com).

His latest, “The Smoke Room” (Doubleday, 308 pp., $24.95), is narrated by Jason Gum, a rookie assigned to West Seattle. After Jason is inexcusably late to a fire, two older firemen cover for him — but then the two steal millions in bonds and Jason is blackmailed into reciprocating.

The action scenes are as thrilling as ever, but in my opinion “The Smoke Room” isn’t Emerson’s strongest book. One problem is that its characters, even hapless Jason, aren’t overly bright or honorable. It’s tough to love a book when you want to slap both the protagonist and the villains and tell them to get a grip.

“Double Tap” (Putnam’s, 422 pp., $26.95) is the latest in recovering attorney and Bellingham resident Steve Martini’s legal-thriller series about Southern California lawyer Paul Madriani. As with Martini’s previous books, its characterization is on the thin side but its plot is expertly paced and sure-footed.

A zillionaire software CEO has been murdered: Madelyn Chapman was sexually voracious, plenty ambitious and had no shortage of enemies. She was just about to close a huge deal for a hush-hush government security program — but the motive may also have been robbery or jealousy. Evidence strongly points to a former elite soldier who was once her private security. Madriani has the unenviable task of defending the soldier, who says he’s been framed but insists on staying mum about key information.

Seattle writer Adam Woog’s column on mystery and crime fiction appears on the second Sunday of the month in The Seattle Times.