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Cold Water Burning by John Straley (Bantam, $23.95). John Straley's detective, Cecil Younger, is a rather unremarkable character who isn't always very good at his job. His last case involved the investigation of a multiple murder and arson on a boat. Because Younger managed to discount most of the circumstantial evidence in the crime, the suspected murderer got off. Now, the former suspect is missing. Straley tells a heckuva good story, but the real pleasure in reading him is his prose.

Red Mesa by Aimee and David Thurlo (Tom Doherty Associates, $24.95). Series protagonist Navajo tribal cop Ella Clah now has a 1-year-old daughter. Ella's biggest supporter and right-hand woman, her young cousin Justine, turns up murdered, and Ella herself becomes a suspect. The Thurlos have penned an intense, fast-paced mystery.

Right as Rain by George Pelecanos (Little, Brown, $24.95). Pelecanos fields a black ex-cop PI in D.C. who's investigating the fatal shooting of a black cop by a white one (who's been cleared of charges). He and the PI sort through vicious drug dealers and corrupt cops to find the real killer. Though languid and talky, "Right as Rain" gives you a moving, gritty Washington that's not on the tourist itineraries.

-- Knight Ridder Newspapers

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