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Originally published December 14, 2007 at 12:00 AM | Page modified December 14, 2007 at 10:42 AM

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Adam Woog's best crime fiction of 2007

There's never a shortage of contenders for the year's best crime novels. Here are some of my favorites: "Christine Falls" by Benjamin Black...

Special to The Seattle Times

There's never a shortage of contenders for the year's best crime novels. Here are some of my favorites:

"Christine Falls" by Benjamin Black (Henry Holt). In this melancholy, resonating book set in 1950s Dublin, a secret unravels when a prominent obstetrician alters a dead woman's file. Author Black is John Banville, a Man Booker Prize-winning novelist working here under a nom de crime.

"Bangkok Haunts" by John Burdett (Knopf). Thai cop Sonchai Jitpleecheep — half-American, son of a courtesan, devout Buddhist and smart as a whip — is the perfect blend of East/West guide to Bangkok's seamier corners. When a murdered lover's ghost visits him, Sonchai (being Thai) takes it in stride and (being a detective) chases her killer.

"An Accidental American" by Alex Carr (Random House). Carr (aka Jenny Siler) has written a swift, clean, nuanced thriller about a document forger blackmailed into finding her former lover in a deeply atmospheric Portugal.

"Bad Luck and Trouble" by Lee Child (Delacorte). Jack Reacher is still the thinking reader's action hero, and this rocket of a book finds the ex-military cop avenging the murder of a former comrade in arms.

"The Overlook" by Michael Connelly (Little, Brown). L.A. detective Harry Bosch, moody and brilliant as ever, provokes his superiors again while investigating a murder with national security implications.

"Stalin's Ghost" by Martin Cruz Smith (Simon and Schuster). Arkady Renko, the sorrowful, humane and deceptively bumbling hero of (among others) "Gorky Park," deals with bad cops, mass sightings of a dead dictator, a wandering son and the loss of his lover — all against a background of New Russia and the rebellion in Chechnya.

"End Games" by Michael Dibdin (Pantheon). Dibdin — a Briton who called Seattle home before his death this year — sends his remarkable Italian policeman Aurelio Zen to sleepy Calabria, where a bizarre murder connected to an American film crew provides fodder for a wicked satire of scheming Hollywood types.

"The Snake Stone" by Jason Goodwin (Farrar, Straus & Giroux). Yashim Togalu, sultan's spy and eunuch, investigates the deaths of a city waterman and a French archaeologist, bringing 1830s Istanbul and the glory days of the Ottoman Empire vibrantly to life.

"The Book of Air and Shadows" by Michael Gruber (HarperCollins). A capsule description of Seattleite Gruber's thriller — disgraced professor must crack cipher to find previously unknown Shakespeare manuscript — can't do this fearless book justice. Stylish prose, realistic characters, dialogue respectful of the reader's intelligence, and healthy doses of skepticism and humor lift it high above the competition.

"Suffer the Little Children" by Donna Leon (Atlantic). Leon's wry mysteries starring Commissario Brunetti address the subtleties of Venice-as-a-small-town and her concerns over its heartbreaking social problems; here, an attack on a pediatrician who recently adopted a baby reveals a clandestine trade in newborns.

"Up In Honey's Room" by Elmore Leonard (Morrow). Leonard, still the writer to beat in my humble opinion, displays his gift for period pieces with this irresistible postwar tale about German prisoners of war on the lam from their Oklahoma detention camp.

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"The Wandering Ghost" by Martin Limón (Soho). Ernie Bascom and George Sueño, two tough Army CID detectives in Korea circa 1970s, star in Lynnwood resident Limón's vivid novel about a hunt for a missing female MP.

"What the Dead Know" by Laura Lippman (Morrow). Lippman's uncanny knack for empathizing with even the least likable of characters is brilliantly displayed in this textured, harrowing novel loosely based on a real-life Baltimore crime.

"Christopher's Ghosts" by Charles McCarry (Overlook). From a dazzling master of espionage, the latest in the Paul Christopher saga: a teenage Christopher, as an American in prewar Germany, witnesses a wicked crime. Years later, after the Cold War makes him a spy, he can take his revenge.

"What's So Funny?" by Donald E. Westlake (Warner). The Grand Poo-Bah of the comic caper is at the top of his game with this story about sad-sack thief John Dortmunder, forced to find a way to steal a fabulously valuable, 800-pound chess set from an impregnable storehouse.

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

Copyright © 2007 The Seattle Times Company

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