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Originally published Sunday, October 14, 2012 at 5:01 AM

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Crime fiction: mysteries by Attica Locke, Dan Fesperman and Robert Olen Butler

New crime fiction for October: new books by Attica Locke and the fiendishly clever Dan Fesperman, and Robert Olen Butler's first foray into the genre.

Special to The Seattle Times

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As Seattle settles into cloudy-all-day season, it's time to curl up with some rewarding crime fiction.

"The Cutting Season" (Harper, 384 pp., $25.99), by Attica Locke, is as powerful as her debut, "Black Water Rising," which was both a solid mystery and an astute dissection of Houston's African-American society.

Locke's new book has a genuinely bizarre setting (based in equally bizarre reality). Belle Vie is an ex-plantation in Louisiana, now a theme park about slavery complete with staged re-enactments.

Caren Gray is its manager, who with mixed emotions abandoned a promising career track to return to her childhood home of Belle Vie. Caren, a black single mom, puts out a thousand fires daily on the job.

Now there's a terrible crime, too: the murder of a migrant worker from the nearby sugar-cane fields, whose body is found on park grounds. Caren is caught up in both the investigation and some deep secrets about her roots in Belle Vie's rich soil.

I haven't read as fiendishly clever a spy story as Dan Fesperman's "The Double Game" (Knopf, 368 pp., $26.95) in a long, long time. And that's saying something — I read a lot of this stuff.

When he was a journalist, Bill Cage (an espionage-fiction buff) interviewed Edwin Lemaster, a retired spy turned spy novelist. With the piece, Cage unwittingly damaged Lemaster's reputation and effectively trashed his own career.

Years later, Cage receives a series of cryptic messages. They send him on a chase across Europe, a hunt that promises to reveal secrets about Cage's retired diplomat father, a former sweetheart, long-buried espionage and Lemaster himself.

The messages are based on passages from spy novels (and it's a good thing that Cage has perfect recall of them). Espionage fans will delight in the many references to classics of the genre — author Fesperman himself is clearly a fellow traveler in that regard — but fluency in spy fiction isn't a requirement to enjoy this treat.

"The Hot Country" (Mysterious Press, 336 pp., $25) is Pulitzer Prize winner Robert Olen Butler's foray into crime fiction. It's 1914, and American war correspondent Kit Cobb is reporting on Mexico's civil war. He's intrigued when he witnesses the shooting of a priest, who is saved when the bullet deflects off his cross. Cobb also can't help noticing the large number of German soldiers and ammunition ships arriving in Veracruz's harbor.

"The Hot Country" is chock-full of familiar adventure-story characters. Grizzled veteran reporter? Beautiful, fiery revolutionary? Brash street urchin who becomes the reporter's eyes and ears? Slightly sinister German soldier with impeccable manners? Check, check, check and check. But it's a pleasure to watch Butler ring new changes on familiar tunes, and the guy sure knows how to tell a good story.

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

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