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Sunday, July 11, 2004 - Page updated at 12:00 A.M.

Scene of the Crime
Theatrics in wartime London, murder in 1880s San Francisco

By Adam Woog
Special to The Seattle Times

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Some books to consider for summer reading, now that it's arrived (officially, anyway) in the Northwest:

"Full Dark House" (Bantam, 368 pp., $24.00) is an unusual and absorbing story by British writer Christopher Fowler. Detectives Arthur Bryant and John May have been partners for more than 60 years — the last surviving members of the London police's aptly named Peculiar Crimes Unit. When Bryant's body is found in the remains of an explosion, a grieving May tracks down the culprit. The answer lies in the duo's first case, during the Blitz — a series of spectacularly weird murders centered around an opera production. Life in wartime London is wonderfully drawn here, as are the behind-the-scenes theatrical shenanigans.

Janet Evanovich's "Ten Big Ones" (St. Martin's, 320 pp., $25.95) starts off with what's becoming almost a ritual for New Jersey bounty hunter Stephanie Plum: the trashing of her car. (This time, it's firebombed.) Despite the usual stuff regarding Stephanie's family (still daffy), co-workers (goofy as ever) and love life (increasingly complex), the plot here is darker and more substantial than usual in this disarming series. After accidentally seeing the face of a robber, Stephanie becomes his target. Genuinely fearing for her life, she abandons her cozy Trenton neighborhood for the scary urban wasteland beyond.

What kind of novel would you expect from Penn Jillette, the frenetic talking half of the magic duo Penn & Teller?

Well, what you might imagine is of no consequence — "Sock" (St. Martin's, 240 pp., $12.95) is what you get.

OK, here's the deal: The narrator's a sock monkey. He's got a persona not unlike Penn's — that is, a compulsive motormouth always ready to drop a relentless screed smack onto your cowering head.

In between the monkey's sardonic, strangely mesmerizing rants and their cascades of pop-culture references, he tells a story: about how his master, a New York police diver, investigates the death of an ex-dancer he once dated. Very curious, this thing, but not without its strange pleasures.

Coming up

G.M. Ford

The author of "Red Tide" reads at 7 p.m. Wednesday at Third Place Books, 17171 Bothell Way N.E., Lake Forest Park, free (206-366-3333 or; and at

7:30 p.m. Thursday at Eagle Harbor Books, 157 Winslow Way East, Bainbridge Island, free (206-842-5332 or

"Murder on Nob Hill" (St. Martin's Minotaur, 280 pp., $23.95), by Eugene resident Shirley Tallman, is a solid historical mystery set in 1880s San Francisco. As it opens, Sarah Woolson, a newly minted lawyer (rare for a woman back then), brashly talks her way past condescending male attorneys to land her first job: helping a young widow, Annjenett Hanaford, sort out her finances.

But it seems that Annjenett became a widow after her husband was killed in a particularly gruesome way. When she and her lover are accused of that murder, Sarah has no choice but to defend the woman — thus falling into a sinister world that includes several more grisly deaths. Tallman, an experienced screenwriter, has a nice way of setting the stage and moving her plot forward.

Frank Corso — a Seattle true-crime writer with a jumbo-size anger-management problem — returns for his fourth adventure in "Red Tide" (Morrow, 313 pp., $23.95). Author G.M. Ford (also a Seattleite) furthers this steely-eyed and speedy series by postulating two intersecting stories.

One involves a conference on bio-weapons that is disrupted by real horror — the unleashing of a bio-terror bomb in the downtown bus tunnel. After witnessing this fearsome event, Corso is pressed into service by authorities desperate to shut the evildoers down. Meanwhile, Corso's sometime lover and partner, photographer Meg Dougherty, has her own problems: Her ex-boyfriend — a creep who gave her permanent scars both inside and out — suddenly reappears and then dies, and Meg is a prime suspect in the murder.

Crime watch

Congratulations and best of luck to Kirkland thriller writer Robert Ferrigno. The Private Eye Writers of America has nominated his "Scavenger Hunt" (one of this column's top 10 last year) for a Shamus award in the Best Novel category. Winners will be announced in October.

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

Copyright © 2004 The Seattle Times Company

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