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The noir crime novel -- "gloomy, doomy and dangerous" -- continues its strong comeback on American book lists and in film. A few writers give us stories that are solidly, exclusively noirish while many others at least borrow many of noir's principal ingredients.

But one leading novelist, creator of a popular female private eye series, wants nothing to do with that current literary fad.

"I hate the whole noir thing," writes Chicago's best-selling Sara Paretsky, whose series of novels featuring the Windy City's hard-boiled snooper, V.I. Warshawski, regularly visit best-seller lists.

"I would find it dreary to write about that sort of criminal life," adds Paretsky. "I like to write about financial misdeeds and corruption."

In her new book, "Ghost Country," the author, who's 51, has surprised everyone by placing Warshawski on hiatus while she fashions what she calls "a parable for the millennium . . . a novel of magic and miracles."

Briefly, in this fantasy narrative, Paretsky's cast is made up of folk who live underground, beneath the foundation of a new luxury hotel. There's a drunken diva, a homeless woman who sees an apparition of the Virgin Mary, a rebellious adolescent looking for a mother she's never known. These underground folk are assisted by an idealistic young psychiatrist and eventually find a savior in a mystical, mysterious woman -- the street people call her STARR -- who, while calming their fears and tensions, gradually transforms their lives.

There it is: "Ghost Country," a highly unusual excursion by a powerful literary voice who's put aside her customary criminous interests to tackle, on a higher level, man's inhumanity to man.

Fans of V.I. Warshawski and her battles in the urban social trenches need not fear. Paretsky has assured us that V.I. will be back, in a new novel, and soon.
By Sara Paretsky
386 pages, $24.95

More thrills, briefly
The Job, by Douglas Kennedy; Hyperion, 387 pages, $23.95 -- From the author of last year's gripping "The Big Picture," another thriller about societal and economic pressures pinching upwardly-mobile young Americans in today's business jungle. There's corporate downsizing, blackmail and murder in Manhattan's cutthroat financial canyons.

The Stalking of Sheilah Quinn, by Jeremiah Healy; St. Martin's, 376 pages, $24.95 -- Shamus Award-winning Healy shifts genre gears in this one, from private cops to legal thriller. It's a character-driven story that ends unpredictably, but eminently satisfactorily.

The Face Changers, by Thomas Perry; Random House, 375 pages, $24 -- Jane Whitefield, the "guide" who helps people in trouble disappear, must discover who's using her name, reputation and techniques.