New in crime fiction: the return of Fred Vargas' Commissaire Adamsberg; a new Ian Rankin hero and two anthologies of nightmares and noir, one written, the other edited by Joyce Carol Oates.

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Crime fiction |

In the wake of Halloween, here are four thoughtful but chilling crime novels to help your hair stand on end.

A commonplace in crime fiction is the use of two seemingly unrelated plot lines that connect late in the game. The technique can be overused, but Parisian police commissaire Jean-Baptiste Adamsberg raises it to spectacular levels. His knack for linking wildly disparate events and making near-mystical leaps of intuition send his cases (and us) on strange and wonderful paths.

Fred Vargas (a pseudonym for archaeologist Frédérique Audoin-Rouzeau) unleashes Adamsberg again in “An Uncertain Place” (Penguin, 416 pp., $15 paper, translated by Sian Reynolds). His eccentric gifts are needed to discover the links between a shocking murder in Paris and a group of shoes, complete with human feet, found outside a cemetery in London.

Acting on one of his hunches, Adamsberg speeds to the Balkans and discovers an ancient evil. (Cue the howling wolves.) Suspension of disbelief is always needed with Adamsberg, but in this case a deus ex machina at the book’s climax may be too much even for fans.

Ian Rankin has retired his Edinburgh detective John Rebus, but he’s hardly done with writing some of the best police procedurals around. In a recent interview (for the British newspaper The Guardian) Rankin commented, “I still panic that … I’ve got nothing new to say.”

No worries. He’s got Malcolm Fox and “the Complaints,” a team of internal-affairs investigators within the Edinburgh police department. Policing the police — talk about a thankless job.

Still, they persevere. In “The Impossible Dead” (Little, Brown, 400 pp., $25.99), Fox’s group is in a small Scottish town, looking into an apparently simple case of a corrupt policeman.

But the bad apple’s misdeeds were reported by his own uncle, himself a retired cop — and then the uncle is killed. The case (based on real events) leads Fox back to the mid-1980s, when radical Scottish nationalists brought violent terrorism to the region.

Joyce Carol Oates’ work is a strong cocktail. It’s so smooth and unassuming that you don’t notice, until too late, that your equilibrium is gone and you’re under the table, wondering how you got that tattoo.

“The Corn Maiden and Other Nightmares” (Mysterious Press, 264 pp., $24) is Oates’ latest. These unsettling stories are aptly titled — “other nightmares,” indeed.

Take “Nobody Knows My Name.” The unease begins with the first sentence in this tale of a young girl, her infant sister and a certain cat. In the title story, cats — feral ones, in this case — also slink around, echoing the story’s main figures: a group of out-of-control adolescents who kidnap a trusting younger girl.

The alarmingly prolific Oates, a National Book Award recipient, has edited another book that’s out this month: “New Jersey Noir” (Akashic, 290 pp., $15.95), the latest in the publisher’s regional series. (Check out “Seattle Noir” if you haven’t already.)

These new stories and poems reflect Oates’ appreciation of both literary and genre fiction. Edmund White, S.J. Rozan, Robert Pinsky, Bill Pronzini and Jonathan Safran Foer are just some of the distinguished contributors.

The current release of the movie “Drive” may finally cast light on one of crime fiction’s best-kept secrets: James Sallis, who wrote the novel it’s based on.

In “The Killer Is Dying” (Walker, 240 pp., $24), three people almost — but don’t quite — intersect: a dying assassin on his final job, a weary detective whose wife is painfully passing away, and a parentless but resourceful boy who inexplicably starts dreaming the killer’s dreams. The book contemplates its subject — mortality — in spare, striking prose. It’s dark, but Sallis’ deep empathy for his sharply imagined characters shines through.

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