J ames Lee Burke's Jolie Blon's Bounce is the newest entry in his popular series featuring Louisiana police detective Dave Robicheaux. Tee Bobby Hulin, a blues guitar virtuoso with a spiraling drug habit, has a real talent for being in the wrong place at the wrong time: he has been charged with the murder of young Amanda Boudreau, and the evidence is compelling, but Robicheaux has his doubts about Tee Bobby's guilt. When a second homicide occurs shortly after Tee Bobby is released on bail, the conventional wisdom is that he looks good for that murder as well. Robicheaux's investigation leads him to Legion Guidry, a malevolent man of mythic proportions to the poor people of New Iberia Parish, an unhappy reminder of the antebellum South. With trouble at every turn, Robicheaux must sift through the minimal clues to prevent a serious miscarriage of justice. But at the end of the day, it's Burke's portrayal of rural Louisiana that resonates with readers; you can almost smell the steam rising off his volatile bayou gumbo as the stories unfold. There is a sense of the supernatural just out of reach, and always a shadow of the Old South lurking around every corner.

On the off chance that there is anyone on the planet still unfamiliar with the antics of Janet Evanovich's wisecracking bounty hunter Stephanie Plum, let me recap briefly: Plum lives in Trenton, New Jersey, where she works for her bail-bondsman cousin; she has, in no particular order, a pet hamster, a domineering mother, an outrageous grandmother for whom age is no barrier to fun, a passel of well-meaning nosy relatives and two off-again on-again boyfriends, one who has captured her heart, the other who has captured her, um, nether regions. The books each have a number in the title (One for the Money, Hot Six, etc.) and the latest in the series, entitled Hard Eight, finds our heroine in search of a missing child. In child custody cases, a bond is often required to ensure that one parent or the other will not kidnap the child and take him/her to parts unknown. Stephanie has three weeks to find the child, or a close friend will forfeit her home, which was posted as collateral for the bond. As is the case with previous Evanovich/Plum books, Hard Eight is well plotted and cleverly resolved, but her wickedly funny characterizations and the intriguing love triangle are what keep her readers coming back for more. (Note: Stephanie Plum fans will have to wait until the June 18 national on-sale date to get their Hard Eight fix!)

How many times have you seen a blurb on the back of a new mystery novel: "The spiritual heir to Travis McGee" or "Travis McGee is reborn in this lively new series"? It would seem that John D. MacDonald's beloved hero has a roomful of spiritual successors. Well, with Randy Wayne White, I am happy to report that you can believe the hype. White's Twelve Mile Limit, number nine in the series featuring marine biologist Doc Ford, is our recipient of the coveted Tip of the Ice Pick award for mystery of the month. Based on a real-life 1994 incident, Twelve Mile Limit recounts the story of a group of scuba divers missing off the coast of Florida. When a member of the party turns up several miles away from the dive site, naked and clinging to an offshore navigational tower, she has a bizarre and almost unbelievable story to tell: their boat sank while the divers were underwater; returning to the surface, they were carried along by the currents which slowly pried them apart. One made it to the tower, the others were purportedly picked up by a foul-smelling shrimp boat a boat running without lights, a boat unrecorded by the Coast Guard. Doc Ford joins the rescue crew and uncovers some conflicting information that lead him to the Colombian drug center of Cartagena and a mystery well outside the 12-mile limit. Doc Ford is one of the best-drawn characters in contemporary crime fiction, his Zen/stoner friend Tomlinson provides insights and comic relief, and the supporting cast is superb.


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