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Originally published May 12, 2013 at 6:02 AM | Page modified May 13, 2013 at 7:48 AM

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Africa is setting for three new mysteries

Three new Africa-set mysteries feature novels set in South Africa, Kenya and Botswana, and several Seattle-area mystery novelists have books and local readings this month.

Special to The Seattle Times

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Crime fiction

Overall, the U.K. and America provide the lion’s share of crime fiction, and other parts of the world are too often overlooked. Take Africa.

Jassy Mackenzie’s “Pale Horses” (Soho, 320 pp., $25.95) finds South African private eye Jade de Jong investigating the death of a low-altitude parachutist — her plunge from a ritzy skyscraper was apparently not accidental.

The case takes de Jong deep into the countryside to find a heartbreaking connection between the parachutist and a farming project gone terribly wrong. Mackenzie’s shrewd plotting is enlivened by her sharp eye for both Johannesburg’s high life and its desperate poverty.

This contrast is also stark in Richard Crompton’s “Hour of the Red God” (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 304 pp., $26).

In 2007, Kenya’s capital, Nairobi, is a simmering hotbed of corruption, political fraud and ethnic conflict. The opening sentence of this absorbing and vivid debut evokes the mood: “The sun is at the vertical, and shade is as scarce as charity on Biashara Street.”

The novel follows single-named Detective Mollel as he investigates the death of a Maasai woman who perhaps was a prostitute. Mollel is a full-bodied character, a flawed but sympathetic father and widower — and as fearless a cop as in his former life as a Maasai warrior.

In Michael Stanley’s “Deadly Harvest” (Harper, 496 pp., $14.99 paperback original), Botswana is hardly the benign nation that mystery readers know from the “No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency” series.

It’s harder-edged, a place where women can be kidnapped and dismembered to make magic potions called muti. (Muti harvesting is an all-too-real crime.)

Enter Detective David “Kubu” Bengu. Kubu is highly appealing — and well upholstered, too. His nickname means “hippo,” and his idea of exercise is moving his arm to put something delicious into his mouth.

But Kubu is no fool. While investigating a possible link between the abductions and a charismatic politician, he nimbly navigates both traditional and modern worlds.

And in local news: Several Seattle-area writers have promising new books out. (Alas, I haven’t found time to read them .)

Kevin O’Brien’s “Unspeakable” (Kensington, 536 pp., $9.99 paperback original) is a thriller about a Seattle mental-health therapist entangled in grisly murders. O’Brien reads from “Unspeakable” at 7 p.m. June 1 at Seattle’s Elliott Bay Books (206-624-6600, www.elliottbaybook.com) and at noon June 4 at Seattle Mystery Bookshop (206-587-5737; seattlemystery.com).

In Pamela Christie’s mystery/romance, “Death and the Courtesan,” (Kensington, 229 pp., $15.00 paperback original), a Regency-era “companion” is accused of murdering a rival.

Bernadette Pajer’s “Capacity for Murder” (Poisoned Pen, 266 p., $24.95), finds her series hero, turn-of-the-century UW professor/engineer/sleuth Benjamin Bradshaw, investigating a shady “health” sanitarium in southwest Washington.

And Judy Dailey’s cozy “Animal, Vegetable, Murder” (Five Star, 252 pp., $25.95) stars an organic gardener (in an exclusive neighborhood called Laurelmere) who has singularly bad luck: finding a murdered neighbor in her yard.

Pajer and Dailey will sign their books at noon May 18 at Seattle Mystery Bookshop. Pajer will appear at 7 p.m. June 6 at Third Place Books in Lake Forest Park (206-366-3333, www.thirdplacebooks.com).

Meanwhile, the latest local writer to publish exclusively in e-book format is Martin Limón, whose “The Beast from the Western Realms” (Amazon Digital Services. $2.99) is an adventure about 15th-century Korean warriors and a “mysterious man-beast.”

Finally, hats off to Seattle-area Allen Wyler and Michael W. Sherer, finalists in the International Thriller Writers’ 2013 Thriller Awards.

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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