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Originally published Saturday, December 11, 2010 at 7:05 PM

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14 best crime novels of 2010: Tana French, John le Carré and more

Adam Woog's picks for the best crime fiction for 2010 include Tana French's "Faithful Place," Laura Lippman's "I'd Know You Anywhere" and John le Carré's "Our Kind of Traitor."

Special to The Seattle Times

It's never easy picking just a handful of favorites from a year's worth of crime novels. However, in the spirit of bloody murder (if not the holiday season), here's a stab at it — 14 favorites.

"Rock Paper Tiger" by Lisa Brackmann (Soho). Ellie, a blunt-speaking Iraq war vet, is scraping by in China when a dissident artist friend attracts government attention and pulls her into a thrilling, jittery chase across up-to-the-nanosecond Beijing.

"The Weed that Strings the Hangman's Bag" by Alan Bradley (Delacorte). In this cozy mystery with a wicked sting, 11-year-old Flavia de Luce — smart as the dickens and bracingly iconoclastic — investigates an itinerant puppeteer's murder in 1950s England.

"The Barbary Pirates" by William Dietrich (HarperCollins). Napoleonic-era ne'er-do-well Ethan Gage out-swashbuckles everybody while searching for a legendary weapon; by an Anacortes writer and former Seattle Times reporter.

"Faithful Place" by Tana French (Viking). In this stunning and compassionate drama about loyalty, longing and a sensationally dysfunctional family, Dublin police Detective Frank Mackey is forced to return home when the body of his sweetheart, missing for decades, turns up.

"Spies of the Balkans" by Alan Furst (Random House). Greece prepares for Nazi invasion and a grizzled police detective helps desperate Jews escape, in the latest by a writer at the top of the spy-fiction world.

"This Body of Death" by Elizabeth George (HarperCollins). The Whidbey Islander's books about Scotland Yard's Thomas Lynley are captivating and emotionally complex; here, still mourning his pregnant wife's death, the aristocratic detective investigates a body dumped in a London cemetery.

"The Case of the Man Who Died Laughing" by Tarquin Hall (Simon & Schuster). The colorful streets and pungent language of Delhi jump off the page as Vish Puri, Most Private Investigator, investigates the apparently supernatural murder of a "Guru Buster" famed for exposing occult trickery.

"The God of the Hive" by Laurie R. King (Bantam). The new adventures of Sherlock Holmes, retired and married to Mary Russell — his equal in brains and pluck — are always delightful; here they scramble to keep the Great Detective's precocious granddaughter from harm's way.

"Our Kind of Traitor" by John le Carré (Viking). Le Carré's subtle books remain the gold standard for espionage fiction; this brilliant, morally outraged work confronts the brutal realities of today's global free market — a world of Russian gangsters, political greed-heads and the manipulative figures who slide between them.

"Moonlight Mile" by Dennis Lehane (Morrow). Boston detectives Kenzie and Gennaro are back on the block — the missing girl rescued in 1998's "Gone Baby Gone" has disappeared again; wrenching guilt is only one of the issues addressed in this big-hearted, sometimes heartbreaking, always compelling book.

"Djibouti" by Elmore Leonard (Morrow). Leonard's slinky style careens through the Horn of Africa; a tough filmmaker and her wry assistant document modern piracy, surrounded by a vivid cast that includes a natty pirate and a Muslim from Miami eager to blow something — anything — to pieces.

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"I'd Know You Anywhere" by Laura Lippman (Morrow). From unsettling opening to breathtaking conclusion, Lippman's sharp characterizations and deep empathy illuminate the story of a narcissistic sad sack — the kidnapper and killer of a string of girls — who reaches out from death row to beg for forgiveness from the only surviving victim.

"Still Midnight" by Denise Mina (Little, Brown). When hapless thugs stage a home invasion in blue-collar Glasgow and kidnap the wrong guy, a volatile policewoman responds; Mina is adept at finding sparks of humanity and humor in even the stupidest racism and dumbest palookas.

"The Devil's Star" by Jo Nesbø (HarperCollins). Dogged, troubled Harry Hole — surely the hardest-drinking police detective in Norway — falls spectacularly off the wagon while pursuing both a corrupt cop and a serial killer who leaves behind star-shaped diamonds.

Which are the best of the best? Tana French and Laura Lippman. Followed by all the rest.

Seattle writer Adam Woog's column

on crime fiction appears on the

second Sunday of the month

in The Seattle Times.

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