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Originally published Thursday, October 9, 2008 at 12:00 AM

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Scene of the Crime

What's new in crime fiction

Adam Woog rounds up new crime fiction from all over: Baltimore (Laura Lippman), Ireland (Declan Burke), Rome (Amara Lakhous) and Sicily (Ottavio Cappellani) — among other points on the world map.

Special to The Seattle Times

Crime fiction's all over the map this month: Baltimore, Boston, Ireland, Italy and California are all represented here.

Something in the short-story form brings out the wicked in Baltimorean Laura Lippman. The best of "Hardly Knew Her" (Morrow, 292 pp., $23.95) packs the satisfying snap of Roald Dahl's gleefully fiendish tales.

Lippman is best known for her detective, Tess Monaghan, and her harrowing stand-alone novels. But I defy anyone to read, for example, this collection's "The Crack Cocaine Diet" without shivering (and laughing) at the casual evil of its foul-mouthed (but all-girl) narrator.

Declan Burke's "The Big O" (Harcourt, 288 pp., $24) is full of dry Irish humor, a delightful caper revolving around a terrific cast:

Karen augments her job (receptionist for a plastic surgeon) with armed robbery. Frank, the surgeon, wants his wife kidnapped for insurance money. Madge, the wife, is best pals with Karen. Ray is a charming villain, involved in the kidnap plot, who falls for Karen and brings her into the scheme. Doyle is a (female) detective who's chasing the bad guys but thinks Ray is cute.

And then there's Rossi: unpredictably violent, just out of prison and intent on getting some of whatever his ex-squeeze Karen has going. If you don't mind the occasional stretch of credulity, the result is stylish and sly.

The murder in Amara Lakhous' wonderfully offbeat "Clash of Civilizations Over an Elevator in Piazza Vittorio" (Europa, 129 pp., $14.95 paper, translated by Ann Goldstein) is almost beside the point.

Someone killed the scourge of an apartment building in Rome's Piazza Vittorio. But the murder's just an excuse to let Algiers-born Lakhous portray a vibrant, multiethnic neighborhood through the voices of characters being interviewed about the death.

Ottavio Cappellani's "Sicilian Tragedee" (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 338 pp., $25, translated by Frederika Randall) is a riotous and affectionate riff on "Romeo and Juliet."

A Mafioso in present-day Sicily secretly loves a rival's high-maintenance daughter. Another star-crossed lover is a gay theater director who thinks the play's real action is between Romeo and Mercutio. All around them, meanwhile, churns a cheerfully bloody gangster rivalry.

But wait! There's more! I thoroughly enjoyed the latest from these seasoned writers:

"The Brass Verdict" (Little, Brown, 405 pp., $26.99) brings together Michael Connelly's world-weary L.A. homicide detective Harry Bosch and his half-brother, criminal lawyer Mickey Haller, who inherits a high-profile double-murder defense. While there's no white Bronco or bloody glove, the riveting plot may bring a certain real-life case to mind.

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Bay Area private eye Sharon McCone returns in "Burn Out" (Grand Central, 309 pp., $24.99). Marcia Muller's gripping story finds McCone deeply depressed and hiding out at her remote ranch — until nearby murders snap her into action and cause her to confront her Shoshone heritage anew.

"The Right Mistake," from the prolific and protean Walter Mosley (Perseus, 288 pp., $23), is a thought-provoking exploration of wickedness — and what's to be done about it. Socrates Fortlow, the wise but violent ex-con who Mosley featured in two previous books, organizes a widely varied group for weekly discussions that prove controversial enough to attract an undercover cop.

In "Rough Weather" (Putnam, 304 pp., $26.95), Robert B. Parker's veteran P.I. Spenser is hired as a bodyguard for the wealthy mother of the bride at a wedding. When Spenser's old enemy, The Gray Man, kidnaps the bride in a bloody shootout, Spenser then chases the question: Why would such a supremely self-controlled assassin stage such a showy crime?

September marked the passing of two exceptional writers: Gregory Mcdonald, best known for his wry "Fletch" novels, and the peerless James Crumley, author of "The Last Good Kiss" and many others. I never met Mcdonald, to my regret. But I once attended a crime-fiction conference where it seemed like everyone — from heavyweight writers to little fish like me — just wanted to hang out in the bar with Jim Crumley, all the time. What a storyteller!

To mark James Crumley's passing, Seattle's Richard Hugo House will hold "In Memoriam James Crumley: An Evening of Remembrance and Appreciation" at 7 p.m. Wednesday at Hugo House, 1634 11th Ave., Seattle (206-322-7030 or www.hugohouse.org). Hosted by Hugo House writer-in-residence Ed Skoog, the event will also feature writer and Seattle Post-Intelli-gencer Managing Editor David McCumber, J.B. Dickey of the Seattle Mystery Bookshop and others.

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

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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