The news has been so awful, on so many fronts and for so long, that lately I've been compensating by catching up on the lighter, less gory...

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The news has been so awful, on so many fronts and for so long, that lately I’ve been compensating by catching up on the lighter, less gory side of crime fiction. Here’s a sample:

Warmhearted and wise (without getting all gooey about it), Isabel Dalhousie is Alexander McCall Smith’s Scottish counterpart to Precious Ramotswe, his famous African lady detective. The genteel and endlessly curious editor of a philosophy journal, Isabel uses every aspect of her day as a springboard for eloquent musings. Talk about the well-examined life!

“Friends, Lovers, Chocolate” (Pantheon, 261 pp., $21.95) examines hearts both literal and figurative. While subbing for a beloved niece at the niece’s deli, Isabel takes on a customer’s problem: his disturbing visions, which seem to be connected to a recent heart transplant.

Meanwhile, the niece returns from vacation, trailing a charming Italian who may or may not be smitten with Isabel.

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“Hot Wired” (Avon, 321 pp., $6.99 paperback original) is the latest in the breezy series by Issaquah resident Jane Isenberg about Bel Barrett, a New Jersey professor of a certain age. Bel becomes a prime suspect in the death of a former student who has severely dissed the prof on a Web site for students. (The dissing’s in the form of rap poetry, so Bel, ever the academic, diligently researches this phenomenon.) For maximum fun value here, suspend any disbelief over the increasingly improbable stunts Bel pulls to clear her name.

A little of the hometown of author Nancy Bush — Lake Oswego, Ore. — can perhaps be detected in “Lake Chinook,” the setting of her snappy “Candy Apple Red” (Kensington, 310 pp., $19.95). Jane Kelly is a process server and private eye-wannabe with an ex-boyfriend problem (she still cares, that’s the problem). Her new assignment involves investigating a guy who apparently slaughtered his family and disappeared some years ago. By coincidence, Jane’s ex, Tim, was the guy’s best friend — and Tim, who never thought the guy was guilty, is back in Jane’s life.

Christopher Fowler continues his winning series about John May and Arthur Bryant, detectives in London’s Peculiar Crimes Unit, with “Seventy-Seven Clocks” (Bantam, 496 pp., $6.99 paperback original). This adventure, set in the ’70s, involves bizarre deaths within a single eccentric family; the investigation involves art vandalism, vengeful Victorian mechanical wonders, and — as always in this series — more delightfully useless information about London than anyone really needs. The book’s a little bloated — too much about dull secondary characters, not enough about Bryant and May — but otherwise it’s swell.

Coming up

Alexander McCall Smith, author of “Friends, Lovers, Chocolate,” will appear at 7:30 p.m. Monday at Benaroya Hall. Sponsored by Seattle Arts & Lectures (206-621-2230;

And in the Guilty Pleasures Department: Reissues of classic pulp about two pioneering kick-butt females. Honey West is “the nerviest, curviest private detective in Los Angeles,” a female counterpart to über-tough guy Mike Hammer. In her 1956 debut by G.G. Fickling, “Honey West: This Girl For Hire” (Overlook, 220 pp., $13.95 paperback), she investigates the death of a washed-up entertainer while dodging danger and double-entendres.

Peter O’Donnell’s Modesty Blaise, meanwhile, is a former criminal now helping Her Majesty’s Secret Service. In 1965’s “Modesty Blaise” (Souvenir, 224 pp., $14.95 paper), she thwarts a daring diamond heist; in 1985’s “Dead Man’s Handle” (Souvenir, 235pp., $14.95 paper) she’s up against a dastardly mad genius disguised as a religious leader.

True to her comic-strip origins, Modesty is deliriously over the top. She lives hard and loves harder, wears fabulous outfits, cooks brilliantly, has an encyclopedic knowledge of everything and specializes in unusual weapons — some of them hidden in surprising places.

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