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By Loren D. Estleman
Mysterious Press
288 pages, $23

The skilled, prolific and versatile Loren D. Estleman returns with a new Amos Walker private eye novel in "The Hours of the Virgin," a tale in which his Detroit gumshoe is dragged into a search for long-missing art.

The Motor City author, hailed by internationally known British mystery critic Julian Symons as "the logical successor to Raymond Chandler," Estleman is at the top of his ever-glowing prose form and his slickest P.I. style in "The Hours of the Virgin."

His Amos Walker is back on the streets of Detroit where an art expert is being blackmailed for long-stolen 15th century masterpieces of that name.

When Walker is hired by the art expert to bodyguard an exchange of the manuscript pages for money in a porn theater, someone tries to kill him and vanishes with both the money and the purloined artifacts.

Walker realizes, at the end, that to survive, he must grovel, duck, lie, steal and kill, and do it better than the brigands who are out to do it to him.

Estleman, who's 47, is a master of the noir novel, with its moody nightscapes of lonely streets and empty rooms, all rendered with gripping and visceral intensity.

More thrills, briefly

California Fire and Life, by Don Winslow; Knopf, 312 pp., $23 -- To satisfy his aging surfer's complaints that nothing has a life, author Winslow supplies Jack Wade with beaucoup challenges in this frothy thriller. Wade is named a chief claims adjuster for a fire insurance company. His first assignment: prove damage claims filed in a major conflagration involving deaths of human victims -- but not, mysteriously, those of their favorite pets. The author's a former arson investigator, steeped in the knowledge of his craft.

A High Rich Death, by Michael Dibdin; Black Lizard/Vintage Crime, paperback, $12 -- Another of this popular author's fascinating Aurelio Zen mysteries. Not merely a mild literary anecdote, but one related by a storyteller skilled at manipulating his material and his readers' imaginations about murder among expatriates living in Florence in the mid-l800s. Top-drawer stuff. When you're hooked on Dibdin's dazzling crime stories, look for the dozen or so he's written for earlier publication. There's not one that will let you down.

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