Crime In Brief: Retribution<br></br>The Breathtaker<br></br>Playing with Fire<br></br>A Long December<br></br>Judgment Calls<br></br>Black Maps

All butterflies and body parts
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Retribution By Jilliane Hoffman (MICHAEL JOSEPH £12.99)

Jilliane Hoffman looks like a country singer and writes like an angel. Michael Joseph are touting this as the biggest thriller launch of the decade. They even sent a dessicated butterfly in a box with the book. A butterfly that caused one friend of mine to leave the room in a hurry when she realised that it was real and not made of plastic or paper as I innocently thought. Whatever next? Body parts? But dodgy marketing strategies apart, what about the book? In 1988 Chloe Larson, a beautiful and talented law student, is attacked in her New York apartment by a man who talked as he raped her. The attacker was never caught. Twelve years later Chloe is working for the Miami Dade state attorney's office. But she's not the same woman. And there's a serial killer on the loose. One who targets beautiful young women. Just like Chloe. And when he's captured and she hears his voice, it is all too familiar even after more than a decade. So Chloe plots her revenge. And you can guess the rest - or maybe not. Predictable? Well, with a title like Retribution, what do you think? But nevertheless it's well worth a trip to the bookshop for an outstanding debut from a writer who may turn out to be a female Grisham. But remember one thing, ladies. Never take a drink from anyone. Even if you think they're your friend.

The Breathtaker By Alice Blanchard (TIME WARNER £10.99)

Murder hits hard in rural Oklahoma. Murder, and the first tornado in 80 years - a wind so bad it almost conceals the killing from the police. The bodies could have been storm victims if it weren't for the strange teeth that are found in their mouths. But who could know that a tornado would strike on that day in that place? It's an enigma wrapped up in a conundrum which small-town police chief Charlie Grover is determined to solve with the help of a storm-chasing expert. A brilliant study of violence and grief, powerful as the tornado itself.

Playing with Fire By Peter Robinson (MACMILLAN £15.99)

The quote on the front cover blows the gaff: "Any reader who still misses Morse should promptly resolve to go north with Banks." Well, I'm not missing Morse. In my opinion, he's better off dead. Endeavour indeed. Give me a break. So does Robinson fall into the son of Morse trap? Sadly he does, and by page four he's quoting Shakespeare. Later on he listens to opera, reads Nietzsche and Goethe and drinks real ale by the gallon. Like Rebus before him, as soon as these fictional coppers get popular, they go down the pan. Oh, there are murders and drugs and all sorts going on, but I won't bore you. Disappointing.

A Long December By Donald Harstad (FOURTH ESTATE £10.99)

I bow to no one in my admiration for Donald Harstad. He's a great crime writer and I bet he was a great cop in his previous career unless I'm no judge of character. A great cop, exactly as I imagine his alter ego and serial hero, Deputy Carl Houseman from Nation City, Iowa, to be. Nation City is about as far into the boondocks as it's possible to go without falling off the edge of the world and Houseman employs a strange mixture of law enforcement - half old West, half new technology. So when a body turns up almost headless and the individual has never been fingerprinted, and his teeth are missing so there's no chance of ID by dental records, it's a bit of a puzzle for Carl. It makes for a busy time for his police department, especially when the FBI move into town on the trail of illegal immigrants, dope and the threat of domestic terrorism. Harstad's style is bone dry, astringent even, but never misses a beat. Top of the shop.

Judgment Calls By Alafair Burke ORION £9.99

Does the name Burke ring any bells? Why, it's James Lee's daughter and she's written a legal thriller about as thrilling as a trip to the dentist. Dull as ditchwater, in fact. She's a former assistant DA in Portland, and if I was her, I'd have stuck to the day job. Me, I'll stick to her daddy's books.

Black Maps By Peter Spiegelman CENTURY £9.99

This is an excellent go at a 21st-century thriller and would have been even better if every time a new character appeared they weren't described right down to the colour of their underpants and the moles on their backs, which does nothing but interrupt the narrative. Otherwise, this story of shenanigans in the financial world and the twisted path to murder and worse, works well. Seven out of 10.

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