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ON CRIME

'Tiger' in the Chicago night, 'Smoke' in the city

White Tiger
By Michael Allen Dymmoch
St. Martin’s, 320 pp., $24.95

Smoke
By Lisa Miscione
St. Martin’s, 336 pp., $23.95

The Adventure of the Missing Detective: And 19 of the Year’s Finest Crime and Mystery Stories
Edited by Ed Gorman and Martin H. Greenberg
Carroll & Graf, 568 pp., $15.95

Memories of the Vietnam War stalk two friends, psychiatrist Jack Caleb and Detective John Thinnes, in Michael Allen Dymmoch's ''White Tiger." Caleb was a conscientious objector who, as a medic through two tours of duty, bore witness to every kind of inhumanity. Thinnes was a military policeman near the war's end.

A TV news story about the murder of a Vietnamese woman in Chicago's Little Saigon triggers vivid flashbacks of the war for Caleb. For Thinnes, who is called in to investigate, the murder raises unanswered questions -- he knew the victim in Vietnam, but he can't remember how well. Thinnes is removed from the case when higher-ups are tipped off to his personal connection to the victim, but he can't leave it alone, and soon he and Caleb are up to their necks in what turns into a hunt for the ''white tiger," an elusive thug from Vietnam who seems to be back in the business, killing and terrorizing.

The story has all the ingredients of a mystery with the suspense of a thriller and police procedure that feels absolutely authentic. But this searing, complex novel soars in the flashbacks to a war that ''wolfed" these characters down and ''barfed" them out, and in its exploration of the choices war forces soldiers to make.

In Lisa Miscione's ''Smoke," the venue is New York City, where crime writer Lydia Strong and her husband, former FBI agent Jeffrey Mark, are searching for a missing girl. Lydia receives a plea for help from her former writing pupil Lily Samuels: ''I'm out of my league. Big time." When Lily disappears soon after, the hunt is on.

Police detective Jesamyn Breslow and her partner, Matt (''Mount") Stenopolis, are also looking for Lily. Jesamyn, recently divorced with a little boy and in a love-hate relationship with her police-officer ex, is a spitfire, a tiny powerhouse who is expert in hand-to-hand combat. Mount is her polar opposite -- a quiet giant with a long fuse who lives with his parents.

The official and unofficial investigators warily circle one another before joining forces to infiltrate the New Day, a church Lily's brother Mickey had gotten involved with before his recent suicide. Brainwashing and fleecing its novitiates are among its more benign business practices.

There's much to recommend in this ambitious fourth series novel. Mount and Jesamyn, in particular, are sympathetic and interestingly flawed. But series sleuths Lily and Jeffrey seem emotionally flat. They have little reaction to the many deaths their actions trigger, and though ''Smoke" is at times an engrossing read, the complex ending doesn't quite deliver.

Year's end is a time for reflection, and ''The Adventure of the Missing Detective" takes a fresh look back at crime-fiction trends of 2004, and 19 of that year's ''finest crime and mystery stories."

Perfect for crime-fiction geeks like me, it includes an essay by Jon L. Breen. His best-novel picks are now in paperback. Maxim Jakubowski writes about the mystery in Great Britain, traditionally fertile ground for crime fiction. His comment about ''midlist talent being dropped left, right, and center by the mainstream publishing houses" resonates here as well. An essay by Sarah Weinman, whose ''Confessions of an Idiosyncratic Mind" (at www.sarahweinman.com) is the go-to blog for smart insights about crime-fiction publishing, discusses the blog phenomenon and surveys other ''litbloggers."

The 19 short stories include some standouts. Sherlock Holmes opens a coffin and finds his own corpse, in the title story by Gary Lovisi. The solution puts to the ultimate test the Holmesian adage: ''When you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth." Another winner is Aliya Whiteley's ''Geoffrey Says," a bizarre tale of a little boy and his imaginary friend, a malevolent emerald-green penguin. Charlie Stella's ''Father Diodorus" is a raunchy, sexually explicit examination of love and betrayal between two priests. This unsettling story is strong stuff, possibly too strong for the average reader of this kind of collection.

Maybe the contributors should have chipped in and gotten the publisher a spellchecker; in an otherwise commendable volume, egregious typos abound.

And finally, a look back at five standout novels I read and reviewed in 2005:

Peter Abrahams, ''Oblivion" (Morrow, $24.95). A stunning ''unreliable narrator" loses his mind to a malignant brain tumor in a bravura turn on amnesia.

Michael Connelly, ''The Lincoln Lawyer" (Little, Brown, $26.95). A legal thriller with a charming con-artist hero, terrific courtroom drama, and a sting ending.

Robert Crais, ''The Forgotten Man" (Doubleday, $24.95). PI Elvis Cole searches for his ''human cannonball" father in this whodunit that is at once hilarious, absurd, and moving.

Denise Mina, ''Field of Blood" (Little, Brown, $24.95). Get past the brutal murder of a toddler and meet Paddy Meehan, an 18-year-old ''lowly copyboy" for the Scottish Daily News, one of the year's most memorable characters.

Jess Walters, ''Citizen Vince" (Regan, $24.95). A two-bit crook can't leave his past behind in a tale with laugh-out-loud plot twists.The year's best opening line: ''One day you know more dead people than live ones."

Hallie Ephron is the author of ''Writing and Selling Your Mystery Novel: How to Knock 'Em Dead With Style." You can contact her through www.hallieephron.com.

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