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Originally published Sunday, July 12, 2009 at 12:00 AM

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Scene of the Crime: This month's mystery selections

New in crime fiction: an 18th-century strongman, a gifted French cop and a new crop from local authors, including Mike Lawson, J.A. Jance and Steve Martini.

Special to The Seattle Times

This month we highlight an 18th-century strongman, two palookas with an extortion scheme, a Parisian cop with that je ne sais quoi, the last book from a gleefully devious writer and three excellent local authors.

Benjamin Weaver is a two-fisted, quick-witted boxer turned "thief-catcher" (i.e., bounty hunter and muscle-for-hire) in London circa 1720. (It's not immaterial that he's also Jewish.) Weaver is, moreover, the hero of top-drawer historical thrillers by David Liss. Like Liss' other books, "The Devil's Company" (Random House, 369 pp., $25) is thoroughly steeped in the pungent life, morals and politics of its time and place.

Weaver is coerced (through the threat of financial ruin for himself, friends and family) into breaking into the well-fortified offices of the British East India Company. This daring act leads to a wicked and enthralling mix of corporate espionage, international spies and explosive industrial secrets.

George Dawes Green, author of "The Juror," returns after a long hiatus with the richly nuanced "Ravens" (Grand Central, 325 pp., $24.99). Shaw and Romeo, a pair of palookas escaping their nowhere jobs, are heading toward a Florida vacation. Their fortunes turn on a dime in Georgia when they learn that a local family has won a $318 million lottery.

Shaw, the brighter of the two, decides to extort half the money (hey, he's not unreasonable) from this spectacularly dysfunctional family. As he and Romeo worm their way into the home, the family members start experiencing Stockholm syndrome, twisted-Southern style. The plot is cast-iron solid, but "Ravens" really shines because of its attention to the details of its characters' lives — especially their darkly funny interior monologues.

"The Chalk Circle Man" (Penguin, 247 pp., $14, paperback, translated by Sian Reynolds) is the first in Fred Vargas' ineffable, eccentric series about Commissaire Adamsberg (although it's making an appearance here only now).

Adamsberg is a French cop with a gift for finding connections among wildly disparate events, for which he employs an enigmatic combination of brains, observation and near-mystical intuition. Here, he senses unspeakable evil behind chalk circles marking bits of Parisian trash. Sure enough, the seemingly random and innocuous designs start to show up encircling the victims of murder.

Donald E. Westlake's "Get Real" (Grand Central, 278 pp., $23.99) is one of his wickedly deadpan capers starring professional sad-sack thief John Dortmunder. This time, Dortmunder's crew becomes the focus of a crazy reality show about thieves — and then twists things around as it targets the production company itself.

Reading the book, though, is a bittersweet experience. Sweet because it's wonderful, but sad because the author died earlier this year. No more Westlakes — presumably, anyway. I wouldn't put it past the wily Westlake to figure out how to keep us entertained even from the great beyond.

Congressional fixer Joe DeMarco returns in the fourth of Seattleite Mike Lawson's brainy, character-driven and droll novels of D.C. politics, "House Secrets" (Atlantic, 384 pp., $22). Aided by his awesomely connected ex-spy friend Emma, DeMarco digs into the death of a reporter and its connection to a suspiciously clean-as-a-whistle presidential candidate.

Mike Lawson will sign "House Secrets" at these area locations:

• 4 p.m. July 18 at Barnes & Noble, Kitsap Mall, 10315 Silverdale Way N.W., Silverdale, 360-698-0945,;


• Noon July 19 at Magnolia's Bookstore, 3206 W. McGraw St., 206-283-1062

• 5 p.m. July 23 at Bethel Ave. Books, 1037 Bethel Ave., Port Orchard, 360-876-7500,

Bellingham writer Steve Martini's "Guardian of Lies" (Morrow, 438 pp., $26.99) is a taut legal thriller that finds tough-minded defense attorney Paul Madriani representing a young woman charged with murdering a rare-coin dealer — a case that leads to conspiracies dating from the dire days of the Cold War.

And "Fire and Ice" (Morrow, 352 pp., $26.99) is an appropriate title for a book in which part-time Seattleite J.A. Jance's two most popular figures warily cross paths again. Seattle special detective J.P. Beaumont is working a case involving the grisly murders of young women around Washington, a path that takes him to the Southwest desert and Arizona sheriff Joanna Brady's own investigations into a vicious assault on an old man.

J.A. Jance will sign "Fire and Ice" at these area locations:

• Noon July 21, Seattle Mystery Bookshop, 117 Cherry St. (206-587-5737, www.

• 2 p.m. July 22 at the Bellevue branch of the King County Library System, 1111 110th Ave. N.E., Bellevue, ( Co-presented by the University Book Store (

• Noon July 24 at Barnes & Noble, Kitsap Mall, 10315 Silverdale Way N.W., Silverdale (360-698-0945,

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

Copyright © 2009 The Seattle Times Company

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