For the serious mystery junky (among whose numbers I count myself), it is a major event when a new installment by an old friend hits the stands. We comb the reviews, searching for advance news of the latest Dave Robicheaux, Elvis Cole, or Kinsey Millhone. We scope out the authors' websites and count the weeks until the release of the next Stephanie Plum, Matt Scudder, or Harry Bosch. This month, there is ample cause for rejoicing, as old friends Robert B. Parker, Patricia Cornwell, William G. Tapply, and Carolina Garcia-Aguilera have each delivered a new work, just in the nick of time for fireside reading after a long day of raking leaves. Robert B. Parker, the reigning king of mystery and suspense (this time writing in the first person as a woman!), offers up another in the popular Sunny Randall series, Perish Twice. Randall is a Boston PI, like her stable-mate Spenser; in fact, some of the same characters show up from time to time, including the irascible police lieutenant Martin Quirk. Also like Spenser, Randall is a smart-alecky streetwise ex-cop. There, however, the similarity ends; Randall has a family to whom she feels some grudging responsibility, an ex-husband with whom she shares a tentative and complex relationship, and a brace of vulnerable friends. Hired to provide security for a lesbian activist, Randall quickly finds herself an expendable pawn in a very dangerous chess game involving Boston's Irish mob, a prostitution ring, and multiple murders. Parker will certainly win many more fans with his charming new sleuth.

If Robert B. Parker is the king of mystery and suspense, then Patricia Cornwell is certainly the queen. Her protagonist, Kay Scarpetta, chief medical examiner for the state of Virginia, is easily the most popular coroner since Quincy. In The Last Precinct, the 11th installment in the wildly popular series, the tables are turned, as Scarpetta becomes the investigatee rather than the investigator. As forensic clues mount up, it begins to appear that she may have murdered her old boss and antagonist, Diane Bray. Scarpetta must draw upon her reserves of ingenuity and chutzpah to bring a murderer to justice, and do it before the long arm of the law puts her away for good. As usual, Cornwell spins a compelling tale, tautly written and superbly plotted.

William G. Tapply's Brady Coyne series has been deservedly popular for many years. Coyne is somewhat the antithesis of the legal eagle stereotype; he's an attorney would rather play hooky and go fishing than rack up billable hours. In Scar TissueCoyne is called upon when the son of a longtime acquaintance is involved in a fatal car accident. As Coyne noses around a small Massachusetts town in an attempt to help his friend reach closure, he finds himself in the middle of a far-reaching conspiracy involving politics, pornography, blackmail, and murder. Crisp writing and a likable protagonist characterize the Coyne novels; read one, and you'll go back and catch the others as well.

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