Whodunit: Jack Batten

The BurglarBy Thomas PerryMysterious Press, 304 pages, $33.95 Elle Stowell is fit, cute, young, and a full-time Los Angeles sneak thief of meticulous habits. Late one night, she tiptoes into a Beverly Hills mansion where she finds, on a California king bed in the master bedroom, three dead people, one man and two women, all naked, all shot once each in the forehead.

This is Thomas Perry's 26th crime novel and, like the others, this one is expert and never deviates from its principal point. In terms of characters, The Burglar presents a solitary but busy story, spent entirely in Elle's company as she: a) goes about her customary profession; and b) turns sleuth in order to solve the puzzle of the three murdered people before their deaths point either the cops or an unknown killer in Elle's direction.

The Golden Tresses of the DeadBy Alan BradleyDoubleday, 330 pages, $29.95 The notion that Flavia de Luce has turned pro, forming a detective agency in partnership with Arthur Dogger, her late father's butler, might at first strike doubt into the hearts of Flavia's legions of fans.

Flavia is, after all, a pre-teen, living somewhere in the English countryside sometime in the 1950s, and though we already know her from the nine previous books in the series as an unquestioned amateur whiz at chemistry and positively Sherlockian at breaking down clues, the imagined danger is that an adult partner might throttle her spontaneity.

But, it's good to report, not so. The pair's sleuthing gets under way at Flavia's sister Ophelia's wedding when the happy couple, about to cut the cake, discover somebody's severed finger beneath the icing. What follows in this 10th book is plotting and characterization as charming, amusing and original as everything that has gone before.

The Book ArtistBy Mark PryorSeventh Street, 272 pages, $15.95 In the course of the latest book featuring Hugo Marston, head of security at the American embassy in Paris, Marston confronts the statistical possibility raised by earlier books in the series that people who spend too much time in his close company can end up dead. Little does he realize that in The Book Artist , the title character is about to join the other victims on his personal list of the doomed.

The artist in question is a young American sculptor, a woman whose work has just gone on display at the Dali Museum in Montmartre. Marston is growing more than friendly with the sculptor until, on the exhibition's opening night, someone murders her. Naturally, it's Marston, an always willing sleuth, who gets on the case.

As ever, Marston comes across as a likeable character, and the plot is complicated to the right degree. But most winning of all, it's the casually charming presentation of Paris's many delights that most animates the book.

RuptureBy Ragnar JonassonMinotaur Books, 272 pages, $37.99 In the Icelandic policing world of Ari Thor, it's not just the murders he needs to contend with. All the other burdens of life in the frigid and isolated world of the country's remote northern region can really get our guy down.

In this latest Ari Thor book, he hacks away at an unsolved case from 60 years earlier. It seems that, among two sisters and their husbands, the last inhabitants of an abandoned community, one sister died of rat poisoning. While Ari Thor brings brilliant sleuthing to the ancient and mysterious murder, he also gets to the bottom of, among other threats: a strange illness that's confining everybody to their homes; a pair of his own dicey romances; and the prospect of his promotion to the job of top cop in Iceland's most challenging back-of-beyond region.

Jack Batten's Whodunit column appears monthly.

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