September offers up a plethora of new mysteries: a new episode in the Elizabeth McPherson saga from Sharyn McCrumb; a dark and gritty Burke novel by Andrew Vachss; a diabolically clever caper from grand master Elmore Leonard; and last but not least, the beginning of a new series starring the chaplain of a small New England college.

While forensic anthropologist Elizabeth McPherson relaxes at a "psychiatric retreat" coming to grips with the death of her husband, a pair of seductive women blaze a trail across the rural South in The PMS Outlaws. At roadhouses and out-of-the-way taverns, they double-team local boys, promising pleasures hitherto only ogled in the pages of behind-the-counter magazines. After leaving their unwitting prey naked, handcuffed, and um, unrequited (not to mention relieved of their wallets and car keys), the desperadoes flee into the night. Little do they know they're on a collision course with Elizabeth McPherson. McCrumb explores the notion that physical beauty is the ultimate currency, tempering her observations with good humor and more than a trace of Appalachian charm.

Andrew Vachss's character Burke (no first name) is, simply put, the baddest, meanest gunslinger in modern fiction. He has spent most of his life in and out of reform schools and jails. There is no license for what he does ("License . . . , we don't need no stinkin' license . . ."): he takes cases in which someone was grievously wronged and makes them right, the law be damned. His particular area of expertise is crime involving children; in short, he goes after the perpetrators with the vengeance of a hellhound. In Dead and Gone, Burke becomes the prey, set up to be murdered in a phony ransom drop. It is very nearly successful. Burke is hospitalized with a bullet in his head, and one of his closest companions is left dead at the scene. Before it's over, his enemies will wish they had done the job right, for the last thing in the world you want is a wounded Burke on your trail.

Pagan Babies, the latest from Elmore Leonard, features a cast of zany misfits: an American smuggler who is now a priest in Rwanda, possibly; a recently released jailbird who, in a moment of pique, ran down her boyfriend in a crosswalk; said boyfriend, a charming con man who has seen half of the bedrooms in Detroit; and a group of mobsters who bring new meaning to the word inept. As is always the case with Leonard's novels, the story is quirky and convoluted, the characters are one step ahead of the law, and the dialogue is absolutely first rate.

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