Dead'' -- in which someone is said to have committed a murder while wearing a terry-cloth bathrobe -- comes from the accused's servant. The servant testifies that the accused would not have dreamed of wearing anything other than sea island cotton or silk. A few constants apply: corpses in Los Angeles are customarily dumped in deserted areas near Mulholland Drive; there must be a city ordinance making that mandatory.
Daredevils in New York like to show their friends just how reckless they are by running across the subway tracks from one platform to the next. And lawyers who write novels tend to make intrepid young lawyers their protagonists. Amy Gutman, the Harvard Law School graduate who wrote ''Equivocal Death,'' goes this one better with a record-breaking number of references to her alma mater and a fantastically far-fetched denouement in which the heroine is cornered by a murderer at the Harvard Club.
Let us say, then, that you determine to lock yourself away with a book like this for a while and let the e-mail fall where it may. Here is a sampling of current mysteries and thrillers, guided by the same sensation-seeking impulse that is supposed to strike us in bookstores. You're struck by the jacket, you read the blurbs, you discover that Nelson DeMille thinks this book is a winner, or that a reviewer once declared the author a new John Grisham.
And Then There Were None
But will it be thriller enough to carry you away? Brand new from James Patterson, famed for nursery-rhyme titles and two-page-long chapters, this mystery is a foray into feminism at the start of a new series. His heroine this time, treated to more intimate-scale mayhem than usually greets his detective Alex Cross, is Lindsay Boxer, San Francisco homicide inspector. Lindsay is assigned a handsome male partner but doesn't like him until she realizes he is listening to ''The Shipping News'' on audiotape. She is also found to have a possibly fatal blood disease. But don't for one minute imagine that Mr.
Patterson isn't plotting a sequel with a great big ''2'' on its cover. This one has a Statue-of-Liberty-size red 1. Lindsay and three other plucky women -- Medical Examiner Claire Washburn, Assistant District Attorney Jill Berhnardt, and the crime reporter Cindy Thomas -- cement their friendship by comparing tattoos and tracking a serial killer.
This psychopath goes after newlyweds and sexually molests the dead brides. Should this not sound consistent with the author's newly feminist sensibility, Mr. Patterson does remember his target audience in contriving the book's neat trick of an ending. Important plot developments are linked to the bridal salon at Saks. From all outward appearances, this novel is going to be tough as nails. The jacket copy speaks of ''razor-sharp dialogue'' and ''Shadow,'' the Secret Service code name for Nora Hartson, the president's daughter.
And the cover image of the White House looks sinister enough to hint at a pornographic murder in the president's bedroom, in homage to David Baldacci's ''Absolute Power'' an unfortunate landmark of this genre , at the very least. But no.
This turns out to be a marshmallow in thriller's clothing. She calls him ''lawboy,'' ''Cookie Puss'' and other not-very-Grisham-like endearments. Michael also thinks about matters like his hair gel more than might be expected. Nora and Michael are out together when they spot the White House counsel, Michael's boss, and find him behaving in a tabloid-provoking manner.
Their investigation proceeds in surprisingly Nancy Drew-like fashion, complete with the obligatory: ''Nora, if this starts snowballing, it's going to work its way to the top. When a colleague of Michael's is murdered, suspicion points Michael's way.
When Nora's drug use begins to look serious, suspicion points her way. But Nora must behave because her father is running for re-election against E. Thomas Bartlett. This character's name, along with the book's bantering tone and aspirations to insider status, suggests that somebody's been watching ''The West Wing. At the moment, among contemporary thrillers, there's no better reason than ''Mystic River'' to stay home with a good book.
This one is terrific: soulful, atmospheric, suspenseful and propelled by deep, wrenching emotions. Dennis Lehane's dramatic timing and the fullness with which his characters are imagined go well beyond the demands of his plot, which concerns three childhood friends and a murder the way ''The Godfather'' concerned a family business. There's a beautifully nuanced story here that is destined to be actors' catnip, and that resonates well beyond the question of who actually killed Jimmy Marcus's daughter.
Lehane's answer to that is the book's weakest link. The daughter's name was Katie, and she disappeared at age 19, just before she intended to elope with a boyfriend Jimmy didn't like.
But ''Mystic River'' is less about suspects than about the interwoven lives of Jimmy, Sean Devine and Dave Boyle, who were playing together as kids one day when Dave was abducted by child molesters. When Dave came back, he never spoke about what happened to him; now, 25 years later, he seems to have committed a violent act on the night Katie disappeared. In the close-knit town where the book takes place, Sean has grown up to be a detective investigating the crime. The author draws even his story's incidental figures as sharply as he draws its major ones, with mesmerizing results.
Of the friend who let Katie drive off alone on the night she died: ''For the rest of her life, Diane would wish she'd stayed in that car. She would give birth to a son in less than a year and she'd tell him when he was young before he became his father, before he became mean, before he drove drunk and ran over a woman waiting to cross the street in the Point that she believed she was meant to stay in that car, and that by deciding to get out, on a whim, she felt she'd altered something, shaved the corner off an edge in time.
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She would carry that with her along with an overriding sense that her life was spent as a passive observer of other people's tragic impulses, impulses she never did enough to curb. She would say these things again to her son during visitation days at the prison, and he'd give her a long roll of his shoulders and shift in his seat and say, 'Did you bring those smokes, Ma?
This book's sense of tragedy goes well beyond the fate of Katie Marcus. An author who opens his book at Elaine's -- with Elaine speaking -- is trying to say something. And Stuart Woods says it as often as he can. So Stone Barrington, lawyer and private investigator, is initially on the verge of marrying Dolce, an immensely wealthy Mafia princess in Venice. This calls for talk of planes, palazzi, special privileges from the Vatican and renting the entire Cipriani Hotel for a wedding lunch.
Then, suddenly, Stone is summoned to Los Angeles to investigate the murder of Hollywood's biggest movie star, Vance Calder. This involves access to Vance's houses in Bel-Air and Malibu, to his bungalow on the Centurion Studios lot and to Betty, his secretary, with whom Stone has conveniently already slept in an earlier book.
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It also involves access to the accused, Vance's wife. Her name is Arrington, and she is Stone's old flame, which means she gave up the chance to become Arrington Barrington, although nothing is said about that. It seems that while she and Stone were an item, Arrington was at a story meeting at The New Yorker when she was assigned to write a profile of Vance, which forced her to cancel the Caribbean vacation with Stone during which he planned to propose marriage.
Instead, the movie star whisked her into a whirlwind courtship. The New Yorker is not mentioned again. Woods does show a certain creakiness by giving his characters names suitable for soap opera stars, by making Gilbert Roland virtually the only real movie star he mentions and by painting Vance as a tireless Hollywood stud of the Harold Robbins vintage.
Scenes of amour are not Mr. Woods's strong suit. Eventually, while not busy borrowing the Bentley, Stone finds time to figure out who killed Vance. John Sandford, a k a the Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist John Camp, is better known for his 11 Prey novels than for this series, which began earlier.
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It features Kidd, an Army veteran and computer whiz, and his flamboyant partner LuEllen, who can most happily be found in cowboy boots and is at ease talking computer talk with him. Celeste O. Norfleet, One Night in Georgia , Amistad set in the summer of , a provocative novel of individual lives caught in the grips of violent history. Laura Purcell, The Poison Thread , Penguin Victorian gothic horror tale about a young seamstress who claims her needle and thread have the power to kill.
Matteo Righetto, Soul of the Border , Atria coming-of-age set in the late 19th-c; a daring young woman braves the wilds of the mountainous Austrian-Italian border in order to save her family. Rena Rossner, The Sisters of the Winter Wood , Redhook set in a remote village on the border of Moldova and Ukraine, a historical fantasy of magic and folklore and about sisterly love. Susana Lopez Rubio, trans. Kathryn Scanlan, Aug 9 — Fog , MCD a collage of a life that might have been forgotten, reassembled from the pages of a water-stained diary. Dominic Smith, The Electric Hotel , Sarah Crichton novel traces the intertwined fates of a silent-film director and his muse.
Carrie Turansky, No Ocean Too Wide , Multnomah inspired by true events of the poor children who were sent to Canada with promise of a better life, during the years of to Jennifer Weiner, Mrs. David Wharton, Finer Things , Sandstone the lives of a professional shoplifter and a young art student collide in London.
Roseanna M. Liza Wieland, Paris, 7 A. Elizabeth Byler Younts, The Bright Unknown , Thomas Nelson two young friends embark on a journey across s middle America in search of answers, a family, and a place to call home. Sara Aharoni, trans. Yardenne Greenspan , The First Mrs Rothschild , Amazon Crossing 18th-c Frankfurt — passionate young lovers in a Jewish ghetto rise to become the foremost financial dynasty in the world. David Baldacci, One Good Deed , Macmillan , a young soldier arrives in Poca City, Oklahoma looking for a peaceful life after his wartime experiences.
Andrea Bobotis, The Last List of Miss Judith Kratt , Sourcebooks Landmark a spinster unravels the complicated secrets of her family— interweaves the present with flashbacks to Ellin Carsta, trans. Leah Fleming, In the Heart of the Garden , Head of Zeus story of an ancient garden transformed from a Saxon clearing, to a monastery, to a Tudor dwelling, to the present-day garden.
Rachel Fordham, Yours Truly, Thomas , Revell a prairie romance; a young woman finds love and belonging when a letter bound for someone else finds its way into her hands. Lois H. Gresh, Sherlock Holmes vs. Cthulhu adventures. John J. Inspirational romance.
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Inspired by true events. Talese debut novel following the lives of three groundbreaking women—cinema legends who lit up the twentieth century. Owen Matthews, Black Sun , Doubleday a chilling thriller set in in one of the most secretive locations in Soviet history. Pablo Medina, The Cuban Comedy , The Unnamed Press love story steeped in political satire, poetry, and touches of magical realism — background s Cuba.