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Originally published Saturday, February 13, 2010 at 7:01 PM

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New mysteries: Jo Nesbø's 'The Devil's Star' crests a Scandinavian crime wave

Adam Woog's February's crime fiction roundup includes two new examples of a remarkable wave of books coming from Scandinavia, notably Norwegian author Jo Nesbø's "The Devil's Star." Nesbø will read at several Seattle-area locations in March.

Special to The Seattle Times

Author appearance

Jo Nesbø

The author of "The Devil's Star" will read at these area locations:

• At 12:30 p.m. March 21 at the Poulsbo Sons of Norway Lodge, 18891 Front St. N.E., Poulsbo. Sponsored by Liberty Bay Books (360-779-5909; libertybaybooks.com).

• At 7 p.m. March 22 at the Leif Erikson Lodge, 2245 N.W. 57th St., Seattle. For information contact the Elliott Bay Book Co. (206-624-6600; elliottbaybook.com).

• At noon March 23 at the Seattle Mystery Bookshop, 117 Cherry St., Seattle (206-587-5737; seattlemystery.com).

• At 7 p.m. March 23 at Village Books, 1200 11th St., Bellingham (360-671-2626; villagebooks.com).

This month's sample of crime fiction includes two examples of the remarkable wave of books coming out of Scandinavia.

Harry Hole must be the hardest-drinking police detective in Norway (which is saying something, I'll bet). In Jo Nesbø's "The Devil's Star" (HarperCollins, 452 pp., $25.99, translated by Don Bartlett), Hole has been trying to quit, falls spectacularly off the wagon — and is still one of the smartest, savviest detectives in Oslo.

Here, he takes on two tasks: bringing a corrupt cop to justice and catching a serial killer who leaves trademark star-shaped diamonds with each body. Hole resembles in many ways Ian Rankin's celebrated Edinburgh cop, John Rebus: dogged, tough, troubled and a compelling guide through harsh neighborhoods rarely seen by visitors to his city.

Meanwhile, "The Man from Beijing" (Knopf, 367 pp., $25.95, translated by Laurie Thompson) arrives via another chilly wind, this one from Sweden. Taking a break from his celebrated series about Inspector Kurt Wallander, Henning Mankell's new book starts with an especially horrific crime: nearly every resident of a small village is murdered.

Judge Birgitta Roslin, the granddaughter of two of the victims, uncovers a link between the killings and a 19th-century crime involving Chinese immigrants laboring on the American railroads. The lead she follows is the slightest and most implausible of clues, but the book is still riveting.

And up in Alaska (what's with all these frozen mysteries?), Anchorage writer Dana Stabenow remains a remarkably strong and assured voice. In "A Night Too Dark" (Minotaur, 336 pp. $24.99), the 17th in her superior series about P.I. Kate Shugak, the no-nonsense detective is having trouble adapting to changes brought by the discovery of valuable minerals near her remote home.

The influx of modern-day prospectors brings with it inevitable battles over the environment — as well as a case of "suicide by Alaska." The cause of death seems cut and dried — until the putative suicide turns up weeks later, wounded but very much alive.

Henry Porter, political columnist for The Observer and the editor of UK Vanity Fair, conjures up a disturbing near-future world in "The Bell Ringers" (Atlantic, 402 pp., $24). A gradual, largely unpublicized increase in England's security technology has created a near-totalitarian state of politicians blind to strangled freedoms, a clueless public and a small band of increasingly fearful dissidents.

A video that shows the death of the government's former intelligence head pulls his former lover, lawyer Kate Lockhart, into a headlong search for deeply buried secrets. The Orwellian parallels are clear, but Porter gives the subject a subtle, complex and well-timed shot in the arm. In an afterword, he stresses the fact that all the laws in his imaginary world already exist in England.

R.I.P. Robert B. Parker, dead at 77 of a heart attack. The prolific writer's best-known character, Spenser, set a high standard for today's private eyes — a tough, smart, eternally bemused operative with a better personality (and a much better sex life) than the classic hard-boiled gumshoe that was his model.

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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