Crime: Bears and Poets: Endangered Prey in This Week’s Crime Column

Christina enlists the aid of some distinguished fellow poets to locate both her brother and the stalker. It’s a safe bet that neither Robert Browning nor Alfred, Lord Tennyson, will prove to be the murderer in this literary whodunit. Still, it’s nice to have them around to pepper the text with witty insults. “I do my best to stay away from morbid excitement of the masses,” says Browning, who actually loves every minute of his adventure.

Uh-oh. Tourism is now the biggest industry in the little French village of St. Denis in the Dordogne, where Martin Walker sets his captivating mysteries. In A TASTE FOR VENGEANCE (Knopf, $25.95), Bruno Courrèges, the town’s one and only policeman, has just been elevated to the position of chief of police for the entire valley, which involves not only more travel to other towns but the acquisition of an actual staff.

However, Bruno is preoccupied with two crises on his own patch. A British tourist bound for a local cooking school has gone missing en route. And as coach of the town’s women’s rugby team, Bruno is also concerned about its star player, whose secret pregnancy may dash her chances to play for the national team. When the lost tourist and a mysterious male companion turn up dead, an element of political intrigue enters the story. But with Bruno in charge, there’s always time for one of those classic feasts that make this series such a mouthwatering treat.

Isolated highway rest stops can be scary places, especially when you’re driving through a strange country in the middle of the night. Returning home to England from a holiday in France, Finn McQuaid and his girlfriend, Layla, find themselves in just such a dismal spot in B. A. Paris’s thriller, BRING ME BACK (St. Martin’s, $26.99). Layla stays in their locked car while Finn uses the toilet, but when he comes back, she’s gone. That’s what he tells the French police, anyway.

Twelve years later, Finn has recovered from his traumatic experience and is about to marry Layla’s sister, Ellen. While he acknowledges that he and Ellen “will never be completely free of Layla,” he doesn’t mean that in a literal sense. So he’s understandably alarmed when he hears about sightings of someone who looks like Layla near the cottage they once shared, and both he and Ellen are spooked when Russian nesting dolls from the sisters’ childhood start to appear around the house. Paris’s writing can get quite chewy, but she builds a nice plot and brings some originality to the old “good sister, bad sister” character dynamic.

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