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Book Report: A new Scandinavian thriller takes the stage

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I'm way behind in my coverage of the Scandinavian thriller surge in world publishing, not having even read a Stieg Larsson thriller, so I'll try to make it up by reviewing a finely wrought thriller by first-time Swedish author Alexander Soderberg. It's "The Andalucian Friend," (Crown, $26), translated by Neil Smith.

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Soderberg will certainly join the other Scandinavians with the sophisticated creation of his heroine, Sophie Brinkmann, a nurse who has been widowed. She meets a patient at her hospital, one Hector Guzman, a charming fellow whom she falls for. But there's a problem. Hector turns out to be the head of an international crime syndicate dealing in drugs and weapons.

To make matters worse, Hector has a problem. His syndicate is under attack by a German syndicate as bad or worse than Hector's. Poor Sophie is caught between this rock and that hard place.

So how could this sensitive and intelligent woman fall for a guy like Hector? Think "The Sopranos." As an avid fan, I've watched every episode of this blockbuster TV show, much to my wife's chagrin. ("How can you watch such violence and vulgarity?") I reply that it's because I have affection for Tony Soprano, during his "tender" moments with family and despite the fact he not only kills his enemies, but also his relatives. The same can be said for Hector. He's cool, likeable. "Blacklist" author Brad Thor writes in advance praise on the dust jacket: "Imagine 'The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo' meets 'The Sopranos....'" Bingo!

How Sophie navigates this ironic situation makes for great reading.

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Moving on from a first novel, we come to Jonathan Kellerman's thirtieth novel, "Guilt" (Ballantine Books, $28), the latest installment of his Alex Delaware series, by the award winning author of books like "When the Bough Breaks," ""Obsession," "Compulsion," and "Rage," as well as other books co-authored with his wife, Faye Kellerman."

Alex Delaware is a psychologist and in this outing, he's come to the aid of LAPD detective Milo Sturgis, who's stumped at a case taking place in a fancy L.A. neighborhood, where an excavation has dug up the body of an infant who has been down there for sixty years. Soon after, a young woman is found shot in the head very near the infant's excavation.

Is there a link between the two? That's what Delaware and Sturgis must find out, as they dig into the history of the neighborhood. Backtracking sixty years, they discover tales of a beautiful nurse, a wealthy doctor and a long-gone hospital with a notorious reputation.

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Most authors of adult mysteries, like Kellerman, write books in series, with the same main character in successive novels. Authors of adolescent mysteries aren't far behind. I recently received "Change of Heart," (Darby Creek, $8.95 paper) by Norah McClintock, a Canadian author. McClintock, winner of prestigious Canadian prizes for her work has created a teenager, Robyn Hunter, who has now appeared in nine novels.

Hockey plays a big role in "Change of Heart," because Robyn's good friend Billy has been arrested for the murder of his classmate, high school hockey star Sean Sloane. Robyn is convinced of Billy's innocence and so to complicate matters, Robyn's good friend Morgan had been dating the dead player and Robyn's mother, an attorney, is defending Billy, and her father thinks Billy might very well be guilty because he had "motive, method, and opportunity."

Here's a novel that is easily accessible to the slowest reader. Sentences are short, straightforward and conversational.

Dave Wood is a past vice-president of the National Book Critics Circle and former book review editor of the Minneapolis Star Tribune. Phone him at (715) 426-9554.

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