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Originally published Saturday, June 11, 2011 at 7:07 PM

New in crime fiction: talented debut mysteries and thrillers by Matthews, Dugoni and Martini

New in crime fiction: some strong debut mysteries, and new books by Western Washington authors Jeanne Matthews, Robert Dugoni and Steve Martini.

Special to The Seattle Times

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Crime fiction |

Competing against well-established writers is tough. Is a debut novelist promising? Will he or she stay the distance?

Who knows? Still, these strong debuts deserve serious consideration.

It's easy to see why Rosamund Lupton's "Sister" (Crown, 319 pp., $24) has done well in her native England. It's a remarkable piece of work.

Bee's free-spirited sister, Tess, is missing. Tightly ordered, protective Bee abandons her comfortable New York life, returning to London to take charge. When Tess' body is found, most everyone — including the police and the sisters' ice-cold mother — thinks it was suicide. Not Bee.

Lupton shrewdly and compassionately peels back the story's rich layers, slowly uncovering details of Tess' complex life, examining tangled mother-daughter connections, and providing a genuinely wicked sting at the end. But the key to "Sister" is Bee's voice: clear, strong, single-minded, and not to be denied.

The cozy mystery was once limited to adorable English villages and the like, but it long ago outgrew its traditional boundaries. Janice Hamrick's "Death on Tour" (Minotaur, 304 pp., $24.99) is a charming example.

A whirlwind visit to Egypt for Jocelyn Shore and her cousin kicks off when one of their fellow sightseers, well, kicks off: Someone pushes her off a pyramid.

Granted, the victim was a major pain, but still.

True to genre form, the sightseers are an eccentric and secret-laden bunch. As the tour progresses, there are more mysterious doings — including some strange men who regularly pop up and insist that the cousins are sisters from Utah.

Remember the '70s? I'd rather not, but I dealt with it, because that's the setting for David Anthony's sharp and funny "Something for Nothing" (Algonquin, 352 pp., $13.95 paper).

On the surface, Martin Anderson is golden. His lucrative used-airplane dealership has given him a big house, fast cars, second home and racehorses. But he's in financial trouble, and his family's cushy lifestyle is threatened.

An increasingly desperate Martin agrees to a scheme his horse trainer suggests: smuggling heroin from Mexico via small plane. But Martin's a lousy crook, and things unravel fast — especially after an oddly chummy detective starts hanging around. Anthony's plotting is a little slack, and the ending predictable. But poor deluded Martin, eaten up with envy of his still-affluent neighbors, is a touching character.

On the local front: no debuts, but good stuff nonetheless.

Renton writer Jeanne Matthews' "Bet Your Bones" (Poisoned Pen, 320 pp., $24.95/$14.95) extends her appealing series about Dinah Pelerin, a student of archaeology and myth. (As in Matthews' previous book, local myths and legends enrich the story.) Dinah's in Hawaii for her best pal's wedding (to a controversial wheeler-dealer), but then the goddess Pele starts causing earthquakes, and someone pushes one of the wedding party into hot lava, and then ...

Jeanne Matthews will read from and sign "Bet Your Bones" at 7 p.m. June 23 at Third Place Books, 17171 Bothell Way N.E., Lake Forest Park; free (206-366-3333 or www.thirdplacebooks.com).

Meanwhile, Seattleite Robert Dugoni's series about defense attorney David Sloane remains sure-footed and sly. "Murder One"(Touchstone, 384 pp., $24.99) finds Sloane taking on the case of a one-time adversary — an attorney he's romantically drawn to. She stands accused of murdering a big-shot drug dealer who may be connected to her daughter's death.

And "Trader of Secrets" (Morrow, 400 pp., $26.99) is the latest from a seasoned pro: Bellingham's Steve Martini. Defense attorney Paul Madriani ranges far from the courtroom as he and his nemesis, the chillingly creepy assassin Muerte Liquida, once again face off. The action crosses several continents as Madriani tries to thwart the use of stolen and potentially deadly NASA technology.

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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