Mysteries don't come much grittier than Dennis Lehane's latest, Mystic River. In the mid-1970s, three young boys roughhouse in a suburban Boston street. An unmarked car pulls up alongside, and a plainclothes cop breaks up the battle, sending two of the kids home and taking the third one away. It turns out that the "cop" is a pedophile who abuses the child before leaving him to die in an unused bunker. Days pass; hopes erode. Then, as if by a miracle, the child turns up, somewhat the worse for wear, but alive. Fast-forward 25 years: one of the boys has gone on to become a homicide detective, one a career criminal, one a tortured ne'er do well. When the daughter of the career criminal is brutally murdered, it falls to the homicide detective to investigate her death. Almost immediately suspicion falls upon the third member of the childhood trio, and it becomes a race between the detective and the murdered girl's father as to which will be the one to mete out justice first. Lehane's characterizations are superb; each of the three main characters has demons to exorcise, and each must find his own way to reconcile the soft-focus past with the painful present.

Hollywood has to be the definitive setting for a mystery novel. Tinseltown has a history of decadence and debauchery rarely equaled since Roman times, plus an uncanny predisposition toward recording same on celluloid for posterity. Greed and Stuff, the latest from Jay S. Russell, chronicles the adventures of Marty Burns, private eye turned television star on (guess what . . . ) a mystery show. On Fox, yet. It would be nice to say that his sleuthing skills had prepared him for the role, but Marty is no Jim Rockford, onscreen or off. He does have a tendency for sniffing out trouble, however, and he knows the juicy gossip on everyone in Hollywood. Russell peppers his prose with insider anecdotes about real-life Hollywood personalities; there is a hilarious vignette of parking lot road rage featuring Calista Flockhart, TV's Ally McBeal. Greed and Stuff is a tongue-in-cheek, laugh-a-minute voyeuristic peep into America's favorite scandal site.

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