Patterson races back to form with this one

8:41am Saturday 2nd February 2008

By Simon Ritchie

THERE'S a new novel and a new publisher for American crime writer James Patterson.

The world's most prolific author, whose books have been drab of late, returns to form with his latest Women's Murder Club effort, 7th Heaven (Century, £18.99). Two cases have pushed Detective Lindsay Boxer to the limit. A string of fatal arson attacks have broken out in San Francisco.

The targets are all rich, successful, married couples. With four couples dead, Boxer is determined to trace the murderer.

But there is more on Lindsay's books. Michael Campion was a people's hero, a popular governor's son who battled against a debilitating heart illness.

When he vanished without a trace, the search to find him hit the headlines. But the trail soon went cold. Now with a new lead, Lindsay picks up the scent again. Is there a link with the arson attacks?

With the help of her friends and fellow Women's Murder Club members - Yuki, an attorney, Claire, a medical examiner and Cindy - Lindsay must race to find the suspects and stop the cold-blooded killers, and fast.

Patterson's trademark punchy chapters move the plot along like an express train. I stayed up so late finishing it I got a migraine. But it was worth it.

James Lee Burke's latest Dave Robicheaux thriller, The Tin Roof Blowdown (Orion, £12.99), opens as Hurricane Katrina unleashes its awesome power on New Orleans.

The streets of Detective Robicheaux's beloved city are awash with corpses, and all law and order is gone. The survivors wait in trees and on rooftops for help that never comes.

For Robicheaux, one missing soul stands out: his childhood friend Jude LeBlanc. Members of LeBlanc's congregation were trapped in the church attic. LeBlanc snagged a boat and was last seen cutting a hole in the roof.

Robicheaux traces the boat to a robbery and murder that took place hours after the priest's disappearance. Four men were motoring a boat through an uptown neighbourhood and looting houses when shots rang out. An unidentified sniper killed one of the thieves.

The evidence points towards insurance adjuster Otis Baylor. His teenage daughter was gang-raped two years ago by men who were never caught. The looters match their description. At the time of the shooting, the looters were robbing the house of Sidney Kovick, a New Orleans mobster. Big mistake.

One of the looters, Bernard Melancon, reaches out to Robicheaux. He is possibly responsible for the death of a priest and the rape of teenage girl, but now seeks redemption.

Meanwhile, Ronald Bledsoe shows up claiming to be a private detective. Robicheaux suspects Kovick hired Bledsoe to recover the diamonds stolen when his house was robbed. Bledsoe's advances toward Robicheaux's adopted daughter Alafair suggest another agenda.

The landscape is the perfect setting for Burke's visions of good and evil. The Tin Roof Blowdown is an extraordinary novel. A must for all lovers of American crime fiction.

In Jon Evans' The Night Of Knives (Hodder & Stoughton, £19.99), Veronica Kelly arrives in Africa for a new start.

Reeling from her divorce, she is grateful when a handsome stranger invites her on an expedition to visit gorillas in Uganda's wild Impenetrable Forest.

But the trip goes desperately wrong when the tourists are captured by brutal gunmen, marched into the lawless Congo, and held for ransom.

One tourist is executed, then another - their killings posted on YouTube. Soon it seems their abduction was not random, but premeditated, the first move in a deadly game that may consume entire nations.

A gripping and terrifying read. Evans is definitely a name for the future.

Dead Man (Hodder & Stoughton, £19.99) by Stephen Leather sees another outing for Dan "Spider" Shepherd.

The former SAS man is now working undercover for the Serious Organised Crime Agency.

Robbie Carter, an RUC special branch officer, is murdered in front of his wife and child by an IRA squad. All five members are released from prison under the Good Friday Agreement, but one by one they are being killed and the gun used is Carter's.

Shepherd is sent to track down the killer, but he has another problem. A Saudi terrorist is seeking revenge for the deaths of his two sons at the hands of the Americans. His targets are Shepherd's boss, Charlotte Button, and Richard Yokely, a former CIA operative, now involved with Homeland Security.

He sends a hitman to assassinate them and killing Shepherd would bring his boss out into the open.

Dead Man is a page-turning read which cements Leather as one of Britain's leading thriller writers.

After their thrilling exploits in Matthew Reilly's bestseller, Seven Ancient Wonders, super soldier Jack West and his team of adventurers return in The Six Sacred Stones (MacMillan, £14.99) to face an all-but-impossible challenge.

A mysterious ceremony in an unknown location has triggered a catastrophic countdown that could destroy all life on Earth.

There is one last hope. If Jack's team can find and rebuild a legendary ancient device known only as the "Machine", they might be able to ward off this coming Armageddon.

The only clues to its location, however, are held within the fabled Six Sacred Stones, lost in the fog of history.

So the hunt begins... from Stonehenge in England, to the deserts of Egypt, to the Three Gorges region of China.

Far-fetched nonsense, which you can't help but enjoy.

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