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Originally published Sunday, October 13, 2013 at 3:05 AM

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New crime fiction set in Mississippi, India and D.C.

New titles for October in the crime-fiction arena include books by Tom Franklin, Beth Ann Fennelly, Tarquin Hall and George Pelecanos, and a penetrating analysis of Victorian crime by Judith Flanders.


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Read all about it — brutal crimes in Mississippi, India, Washington, D.C., and Victorian England!

“The Tilted World” (Morrow, 320 pp., $25.99), by Tom Franklin and Beth Ann Fennelly, is a swift, soulful mix of love story and crime saga, with a real-life 1927 Mississippi flood as backdrop.

Two “revenooers” — Prohibition agents — arrive in tiny Hobnob Landing. What they find is trouble: a strong woman, her infant son and no-good husband, and a devious plan to dynamite a levee as the waters rise.

From these the authors weave a sturdy story with evocative characters and unpretentious but shapely prose — not surprising, considering that Fennelly is a respected poet and Franklin is the author of 2010s brilliant “Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter.” Some of its elements are stock, but nonetheless “The Tilted World” is literary crime fiction of the highest order.

“The Case of the Love Commandos” (Simon & Schuster, 288 pp., $24.99) is as whimsical as Tarquin Hall’s other novels about Vish Puri, “India’s Most Private Detective.” But at its heart is a serious issue: forced marriage.

Sweethearts Ram and Tulsi hoped to marry, but Tulsi’s wealthy father was furious that his daughter wanted to wed a man from a lower social caste. Now Ram is missing and Tulsi, who had been her father’s virtual prisoner, is rescued by the fetchingly named Love Commandos.

(The Love Commandos — a grass-roots group dedicated to enabling “love matches” — are real. It might sound silly, but there’s a serious underpinning: Forced marriages frequently end in violence.)

Hall’s books offer two special pleasures. One is the portly and pompous detective’s company. Even better is the dialogue, which rejoices in the pungent flavors India adds to the language.

George Pelecanos is one of the chief writers for the TV series “The Wire” and “Treme” — the dude knows how to tell a story — and “The Double” (Little, Brown, 304 pp., $26) reinforces his role as a top-drawer tough-guy novelist. As always, Pelecanos’ attention to telling details brilliantly evokes life in the darker corners of his Washington, D.C., turf.

Spero Lucas finds stuff for people, taking 40 percent of the value as commission. (Lucas’ occupation plays homage to an earlier crime-fiction icon, John D. MacDonald’s Travis McGee.)

The new gig: Find a valuable painting stolen from his client by an ex-boyfriend. The thief is a nasty piece of work — a handsome sociopath who seduces vulnerable women and then rips them off.

Luckily, Lucas is the man to clean his clock — brainy but willing to get physical, honorable but not above bending a rule.

And in nonfiction: Judith Flanders, a social historian and expert on all things Victorian, explores links between murder and journalism in “The Invention of Murder: How the Victorians Revelled in Death and Detection and Created Modern Crime” (Thomas Dunne, 576 pp., $26.99).

Murder was relatively uncommon in Victorian England, Jack the Ripper and Sherlock Holmes notwithstanding. But that didn’t stop the British from soaking up gory details via overheated newspapers, broadsides, fiction, theater, opera — even puppet shows — as fast as possible.

I’m unconvinced that the Victorians “created modern crime,” as her subtitle asserts, but Flanders’ meticulous research, personable style and keen insights are bliss for anyone interested in the Victorians and their quirks.

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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