It’s hardly a new plot device, but the search for treasure — be it surrealist sculptures, Egyptian antiquities or Ernest Hemingway’s fishing gear — is gripping in these three books.

Share story

Three new crime novels exemplify that tried-and-true plot device: the search for lost treasure.

The heroine of Augustus Rose’s strange and wonderful debut, “The Readymade Thief” (Viking, 384 pp., $26), is a piece of work. Lee is a tough Philadelphia teenager in juvie for selling drugs and shoplifting. She escapes, but is sucked into a creepy cult that preys on runaways.

She flees again and, teaming with a kindhearted computer hacker, disappears into a bizarre underworld, chased by cult members’ intent on retrieving something she took from them: an enigmatic sculpture by the French surrealist Marcel Duchamp. (It and other Duchamp pieces here really exist.)

The book is beautifully written, with a complex (if too-ambitious) plot embracing not only surrealism but also such disparate topics as designer drugs, alchemy, urban exploration and, of course, cults.

Despite its high MJQ (mumbo-jumbo quotient), Rose’s story is wildly unpredictable, big-hearted and always fascinating.

Can’t get enough of fly-fishing minutiae? Crave a two-fisted mystery set in rugged Montana? Intrigued by priceless artifacts and literary royalty? Then, have I got a book for you: Keith McCafferty’s “Cold Hearted River” (Viking, 320 pp., $26).

A couple was recently caught in a snowstorm; she died and he barely escaped. Re-examining the scene, local sheriff Martha Etting and Sean Stranahan, the fishing guide/private investigator who stars in this robust series, encounter a strangely jolly man.

He says he’s the dead woman’s adoptive brother, simply paying his respects — but (in a twist based on a real-life legend) he may have an ulterior motive: finding fishing gear once owned by Ernest Hemingway, the most famous fly fisherman of them all.

The veteran writer Elizabeth Peters was working on “The Painted Queen” (Morrow, 352 pp., $27.99) when she passed away in 2013. Lucky for us, her longtime friend Joan Hess has completed it.

It’s the 20th adventure for Amelia Peabody, an Egyptologist at the turn of the 20th century with boundless energy and a sense of humor as dry as the Sahara.

Peabody is enjoying a bath in a swank Cairo hotel when a man bursts in, utters a few cryptic words and dies with a knife in his back.

This remarkable event (only the first of many) leads Peabody and her dashing husband, Radcliffe Emerson, to criminals specializing in fake antiquities. Hess deftly channels both Peabody’s gung-ho voice and Peters’ gift for seasoning a ripping tale with carefully placed archaeological details.