New mysteries hit the road It's a traveler's feast this month, as three new mystery novels zoom us from L.A. to Venice, from New York to Edinburgh, with assorted side trips to Louisville, Boston and Lake Forest, Illinois. The three central characters in these mysteries are as different as chalk and cheese: a tongue-in-cheek lawyer, a new age introspective hit man and a Scottish cop with a passion for old rock 'n roll.

In Lawrence Block's latest novel, Hit List, we travel with anti-hero John Keller to his jobsites across the country. Keller is, on the surface, an average Joe. He's an avid stamp collector, an art buff, a decent guy. On the other hand, he is the last person in the world you'd want to meet on business; for many folks, Keller is the last person in the world they ever do meet, for Keller is a hired killer. On a good day, Keller boards a plane for a distant city, rents a car, locates and dispatches his target, stops off at a local philately shop on the way back to the airport and arrives home in New York in time for Leno. Keller hasn't been having many good days lately. His targets have been dying before he has time to get them in his sights. Keller is no dummy, and he doesn't believe in coincidences; he realizes quickly that the hunter has become the prey. Block blends the grittiness and black humor of his earlier mysteries to give the Keller novels a familiar, yet distinctively piquant, flavor.

Stone Barrington, Stuart Woods' lawyer protagonist in L.A. Dead, is a throwback to the days when private eyes bedded buxom babes, drove Caddy convertibles down the Sunset Strip at sunset and palled around with Mafiosos at Hollywood watering holes. But even the macho must fall, and Stone has fallen hard for Dolce Bianchi. Their wedding promises to be the highlight of the society season. Before the ceremony can take place, though, Stone receives some shocking news. His friend, movie star Vance Calder, has been killed. Calder's wife, who also happens to be the major love of Stone's pre-Dolce life, appears to be the primary suspect. Stone postpones the wedding to fly to Los Angeles to help his former flame in whatever way he can. Naturally, this does not set well with Ms. Bianchi, who brings her considerable powers of persuasion to bear on the situation. When the bullets start flying, Stone has to reconsider his allegiances, forge new alliances and decide which of the lovely ladies he will share his life with (however short it may be). L.A. Dead offers slick, sexy, fast-paced intrigue, excellent dialogue and clever plotting; a must for Woods fans, and readers of Carl Hiaasen, Robert Crais and Richard Prather as well.

Tip of the icepick: Bruce's mystery of the month
Ian Rankin's latest Inspector Rebus novel, Set in Darkness, after spending months on the British bestseller lists, is finally available here in the Colonies. Rankin is an author whose time has come: he has been nominated for an Edgar Award; he won its British equivalent, the Golden Dagger; his Inspector Rebus series is in development for Scottish television. He has received kudos from the big dogs of American suspense fiction: Jonathan Kellerman, Michael Connelly and James Ellroy. All that's missing is wide readership in the all-important U.S. market. And that, too, is about to change, as Set in Darkness is easily the best Inspector Rebus novel yet. John Rebus is a middle-aged Edinburgh police detective whose iconoclastic manner of crime solving has met with disapproval from his superiors. As punishment, he has been designated as "second chair to a fast-track upstart in what promises to be Scotland's murder of the year. The worlds of politics, privilege, entertainment, big business and law enforcement crash together. In the fallout, Rebus hopes to find the solution to his case. Author Ian Rankin brings a compelling voice (and a distinctive Scottish brogue) to the genre.

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