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Originally published Saturday, June 12, 2010 at 7:00 PM

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Crime fiction from the world's hot spots, from Beijing to Sedalia, Mo.

Adam Woog's monthly crime-fiction column includes stories from all over the world this month, from China to Greece to Sedalia, Mo. Authors with new books include Lisa Brackmann, Alan Furst, Tarquin Hall, Philip Margolin and Carola Dunn, as well as local authors Steve Martini, Mike Lawson and Larry Karp.

Special to The Seattle Times

Crime pops up in all the world's hot spots this month: China, England, India, Greece, D.C., and Sedalia, Mo.

In "Rock Paper Tiger" (Soho, 345 pp., $25) — a remarkable debut by Lisa Brackmann — Ellie, a wounded medic and Iraq War vet, is scraping by in a low-rent corner of Beijing. Her friends, scrappy artists with dissident connections, attract the attention of Chinese and American authorities, forcing blunt-speaking Ellie and others into hiding.

The group communicates by playing a virtual-fantasy game, and their online quests mirror real-life predicaments. Although a subplot involving Ellie's estranged husband is distracting, Brackmann paints a mesmerizing picture of life in jittery modern Beijing.

Alan Furst, a ruling king of espionage writers, mines a rich vein: Europe just before or during WWII. In "Spies of the Balkans" (Random House, 268 pp., $26), northern Greece is preparing for imminent Nazi invasion. Police detective Costa Zannis establishes an "escape line" through his country for desperate Jews — a route that a British agent hopes to exploit for his own nation's purposes.

Furst's deeply addictive books share certain traits: rugged, melancholy male protagonists; slowly unfolding plots; abundant atmosphere and vivid characters; and unexpected romantic sweetness in the midst of danger. These similarities don't hurt a bit; some stories are worth telling over and over.

Front and center in Tarquin Hall's "The Case of the Man Who Died Laughing" (Simon & Schuster, 308 pp., $24) is Vish Puri, India's Most Private Investigator: stately, plump, nattily dressed — and very sure of himself.

In this, his delightful second case, Puri hunts whoever staged a wondrous deception: the apparently supernatural murder of a "Guru Buster" famed for exposing just such "occult" tricks. Hall, a British journalist who lives part-time in India, splendidly evokes the color and bustle of Delhi streets and the tang of contemporary India's charmingly old-fashioned use of the English language.

What are the odds of two Northwest legal-thriller writers simultaneously plotting threats to the Supreme Court? And yet:

Portlander Philip Margolin's "Supreme Justice" (HarperCollins,320pp.,$25.99) — a sequel to "Executive Privilege" — finds an ex-cop, convicted of murder, appealing her case to the Supremes. Doing so would expose a dark government plot, however, and the filling of an open seat on the Court could determine the case's outcome.

Bellingham author Steve Martini's "The Rule of Nine" (Morrow, 400 pp., $26.99) starts with a bang — the murder by overdose of a Congressional page — and then follows attorney Paul Madriani as he races to stop a former radical apparently bent on killing off the Court.

Also on the local front:

Seattle thriller writer Mike Lawson, writing with a twinkle in his eye (and an eye for colorful characters), continues his outstanding series about Joe DeMarco in "House Justice" (Atlantic, 388 pp., $24); here, the Congressional fixer wades into an intra-agency battle over a reporter whose story caused the death of a spy — and is then jailed for refusing to divulge her source.

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Mike Lawson signs "House Justice" at noon July 10 at Seattle Mystery Bookshop (206-587-5737; www.seattlemystery.com).

In "The Ragtime Fool" (Poisoned Pen, 303 pp., $14.95 paperback), the last in a clever trilogy, Seattleite Larry Karp mixes real-life and fictional figures. Against a backdrop of racism and violence in 1950s Missouri, the pupil of the brilliant ragtime pioneer Scott Joplin hunts for a lost journal.

And Eugene, Ore., resident Carola Dunn draws on her childhood in Cornwall, England, for her charming "A Colourful Death" (St.Martin's,337pp.,$34.99), which finds a feisty small-town widower involved in a deadly rivalry between local artists.

Carola Dunn signs "A Colourful Death" at noon Friday at Seattle Mystery Bookshop, (206-587-5737; www.seattlemystery.com).

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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