"The Easiest Thing in the World" (Carroll & Graf, 308 pp., $26) is the title of a posthumous collection of George V. Higgins' short fiction. It's also a fitting description...

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“The Easiest Thing in the World” (Carroll & Graf, 308 pp., $26) is the title of a posthumous collection of George V. Higgins’ short fiction. It’s also a fitting description for the task of praising this book.

Higgins, who died in 1999, was nonpareil as a novelist — the novel form gave his full-blooded characters license to be as wickedly discursive as they pleased. Nonetheless, each brief piece here brims with the Higgins touch: perfectly pitched dialogue, sharp dissections of New England social strata, sentences that crackle with energy and good humor, and an abiding respect for both character and reader.

Thanks, then, to editor Matthew J. Bruccoli for letting me say one more time: It was a sin and a shame that Higgins never won the Pulitzer Prize.

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“Hot on the Trail”
(Avon, 322 pp., $6.99 paperback) is the latest from Jane Isenberg, New Jerseyite turned Issaquah resident. It’s a funny, fast-moving addition to her series about Bel Barrett, smart-mouthed English professor and occasional sleuth.

This time, Bel’s investigating the death of an elderly student in her memoir-writing class, as well as exploring her newly rediscovered Jewish roots and planning her own upcoming wedding. Bel and friends are of a certain age, so there’s also lots of spirited talk about getting old. (Hint: It ain’t for sissies.)

Fans of Isenberg
will also dig the latest from Janet Evanovich: “Metro Girl” (HarperCollins, 304 pp., $26.95). The books share certain key attributes, among them saucy humor, feisty female leads and eye-catching Day-Glo covers.

When Alexandra Barnaby’s lovable but irresponsible brother disappears, Alex heads to Miami to search. She hooks up there with NASCAR star Sam Hooker, whose boat the brother “borrowed” before vanishing. This isn’t a major departure for Evanovich, author of a best-selling series about bounty hunter Stephanie Plum. In fact, “Metro Girl” often seems like a Stephanie book with palm trees instead of Trenton, N.J. It’s still a hoot.

The genius of Coppola, Pacino, Brando,
et al. was needed to turn the late Mario Puzo’s pulpy “The Godfather” into lasting and profound art, so my expectations for “The Godfather Returns” (Random House, 430 pp., $26.95) weren’t high. As it turns out, though, hired gun Mark Winegardner has done a fine job of continuing the franchise.

For one thing, Winegardner is a better stylist than Puzo (not a major achievement, I grant you). More to the point, he has created a plot, set mainly in the 1950s and ’60s, that cannily fills gaps in the saga while adding new material. He also judiciously fleshes out familiar characters and adds a few new ones — notably Nick Geraci, a former Corleone protégé who becomes a chilling nemesis.

Former Seattle cop
Lowen Clausen’s thoughtful and finely wrought police procedurals, set locally, continue with “Third & Forever” (Silo Press, 340 pp., $25.99). Officer Grace Stevens’ curiosity about half of her black/Norwegian ethnicity takes her to Louisiana, far from her normal Ballard beat. At the same time, she and her colleagues pursue a privileged, creepy UW athlete who thinks he can get away with rape.

Another Seattle writer,
Michael Gruber, checks in with “Valley of Bones” (Morrow, 436 pp., $24.95). It appears that a deeply religious former hooker has killed an Arab oil dealer with shady connections; the seemingly airtight case becomes anything but and leads Miami homicide detective Jimmy Paz into some real weirdness. Plenty of writers mix the thriller genre with hefty doses of the supernatural, but it isn’t often done with such intelligence, style and understated dread.

And finally:
a word in honor of Granite Falls writer Willo Davis Roberts. Ms. Roberts was a prolific and distinguished author who won multiple Edgar awards for juvenile mysteries during her long career. She had completed her 100th book shortly before her death late last year.

Seattle writer Adam Woog’s column

on mystery and crime fiction appears
on the second Sunday of the month

in The Seattle Times.