A new Spenser novel, an auspicious debut and the latest from old friend T. Jefferson Parker: is this a great month for mystery fans, or what? Spenser's adventures have taken him far afield in the last couple of episodes of the popular series by Robert B. Parker. His last, Hugger Mugger, found him in Deep South horse country; his latest, Potshot lands our stalwart sleuth in the wilds of Arizona. The action heats up (but it's a dry heat . . .) as Spenser investigates the murder of a trail guide in a seemingly sleepy desert town. When Spenser crosses swords with a gang of misfits operating out of a nearby canyon, he draws upon his Boston support network to give the local bad boys a thorough whuppin'. But, as often happens in mystery novels, it's tough to tell the good guys from the bad guys without a program. Spenser's sweetheart, Susan Silverman, and his all-around badass sidekick, Hawk, ride herd on the Boston cowboy as he takes on modern-day evil in the old West. Parker is in top form with Potshot: crisp dialog, pretty girls, a bit of John Wayne-style moralizing and plenty of action.

David Meerman Scott's Eyeball Wars is a novel of intrigue, machinations and conspiracy, dot-com style. Richard Williams, heir presumptive to a newspaper dynasty, is something of a layabout. He has a TV-star girlfriend, access to a company jet and more money than he can spend, although he gives it the old college try. Fed up with his son's antics, Williams Sr. lays down the law: no more credit cards, no more expensive cars, no more special treatment, period. He cuts Richard loose with just one asset: the failing Silicon Valley-based Internet division of his newspaper conglomerate. Richard must find some capital and some talent, not to mention some inner drive, and quickly. Meanwhile, half a world away, Mariko Suzuki, a salary slave in a giant Japanese electronics firm, has managed to convince her bosses that entree into the Internet world is what their company needs to be successful in the new millennium. With single-mindedness and determination unusual in one so young, Mariko departs for the U.S. in search of, well, Richard, although she doesn't know it yet. Hijinks ensue. Eyeball Wars is a terrific debut from a young novelist; his characterizations are spot-on, and his writing style splits the difference between, say, Martin Amis and Jay McInerny.

The award for mystery of the month goes to California author T. Jefferson Parker, whose Silent Joe is easily the most compelling novel of his career, and that's saying a lot. The title refers to main character Joe Trona, a handsome young man whose face has been grotesquely scarred by an early childhood trauma. By day he is a sheriff's deputy assigned to Orange County jail; in the evenings, however, he accompanies his father, Orange County supervisor Will Trona, on his night business (the things powerful and corrupt politicians do while their constituents are sleeping). Neither father nor son is prepared for the ambush that awaits them in an Anaheim alley. By evening's end, Will Trona lies dead in the passenger seat of his BMW, and Joe is faced with the horrific task of breaking the news to his family. Parker's characters grow ever more complex; Joe Trona is a good man intimately acquainted with the darker side of life. He sees everything and says little. But he does intend to bring his father's murderers to justice, with or without the help of the law. Silent Joe is the don't-miss mystery of the season, and likely of the year. (Note to T. Jeff: Please bring Silent Joe Trona back for an encore performance!)

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