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Originally published Sunday, July 13, 2014 at 6:17 AM

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Crime fiction: Richard Jury’s return; an unsuspected spy

Adam Woog’s crime fiction picks for July: a new Richard Jury mystery by Martha Grimes; a collection of stories featuring dynamic detective duos; the story of a long-lived (and long-undetected) British spy and a new Mike Lawson Joe DeMarco thriller.


Special to The Seattle Times

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This month’s criminal activity includes a Scotland Yard detective, a motley collection of fictional figures paired off with each other, and a sweet old lady who once was a spy.

Martha Grimes’ delicious “Vertigo 42” (Scribner, 336 pp., $26) is the latest about Scotland Yard Superintendent Richard Jury. It’s a prime example of Grimes’ skill at balancing the serious with the lighthearted.

The former involves a woman who fatally tumbled down steps at her country home, where years earlier a small child had died during a party. It seems that the earlier tragedy was accidental, but the latter wasn’t.

Meanwhile, on the dizzier side, Grimes rounds up the usual suspects: the seriously cracked denizens of the village of Long Piddleton. (Grimes’ humor is generally subtler than this jokey name.) They’re eager to help Jury investigate two deaths in the village: a woman who falls from an ancient tower and later her estranged husband. Are the four deaths connected?

Jury and his posse are terrific companions, but this may not be a good starting place for newbies. Grimes assumes considerable familiarity with her characters’ back stories. And the Long Piddleton gang isn’t present nearly as much as I’d like. Still, it’s delightful.

BTW: Grimes continues her tradition of naming each Jury book after a real-life drinking establishment — Vertigo 42 exists. And that echo of Hitchcock you hear in the title is not coincidental.

“FaceOff”(Simon & Schuster, 384 pp., $26.99) has a terrific premise: top-drawer writers pair up their best-known characters.

As edited by David Baldacci, these short, sharp stories combine the likes of Lee Child’s Jack Reacher with Joseph Finder’s Nick Heller; Jeffery Deaver’s Lincoln Rhyme with John Sandford’s Lucas Davenport; and Dennis Lehane’s Patrick Kenzie with Michael Connelly’s Harry Bosch.

Generally, the authors, who collaborated in the writing of each story, meet the challenge of plausibly pairing their guys. The prose, unsurprisingly, is excellent. I wish, though, that more women and/or non-Americans were present. Calling Laura Lippman and Louise Penny! Attention, Commissario Brunetti and Chief Inspector Adamsberg!

“Red Joan” (Europa, 400 pp., $18) is an absorbing, intelligent tale from British writer Jennie Rooney. It’s loosely based on a real-life figure from World War II: Lettie Norwood, who in 1999 — at age 87 — was outed as the Russian spy system’s longest-serving British agent.

(“Oh dear,” the sweet old thing told a reporter at the time, “I thought I had got away with it.”)

Joan Stanley is a young, naive physicist who is part of Britain’s race to build a nuclear bomb. Falling in with radical and dashing Sonya and Leo — they’re cousins — Joan is won over to the Soviet cause and begins passing information.

Partly this is out of conviction — Joan was raised by socialist parents and believes that peace will result from Soviet and American nuclear arms balancing each other. Partly, too, Joan is seduced by Leo’s nerdy sexiness.

Told in flashbacks as present-day British agents interrogate Joan, the book tautly contrasts her quiet life as a jam-making granny with her long-ago education in the tradecraft of espionage.

In local news: Seattleite Mike Lawson’s smart and resourceful fixer-to-the-politicos Joe DeMarco makes a welcome return in “House Reckoning” (Atlantic, 320 pp., $24). It fills in some fascinating backstory: the truth about the long-ago death of DeMarco’s dad, a hit man for an organized crime family.

Also in local news: Big congrats to Seattle Mystery Bookshop, among those chosen for a grant through superstar writer James Patterson’s program supporting independent bookstores. Congratulations as well to Seattle’s Ingrid Thoft — her novel “Loyalty” is among the “Best First P.I. Novel” contenders for the Private Eye Writers of America’s Shamus Award, to be announced in November.

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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