MYSTERY NOVEL ROUNDUP

John Creasey's Crime Collection 1987, edited by Herbert Harris. New York: St. Martin's Press. 183 pp. $13.95. The annual anthology of short stories written by members of Britain's Crime Writers' Association is named in memory of mystery writer John Creasey. This 11th collection includes 16 stories by such well-known authors as Ruth Rendell, Peter Lovesey, Julian Symons, Antonia Fraser, Michael Gilbert, and Reginald Hill.

The highlights include Rendell's ``The Convolvulus Clock,'' which also appeared in her collection of stories, ``The New Girlfriend and Other Stories of Suspense''; and Antonia Fraser's ``House Poison,'' a departure from her Jemima Shore stories. The reader's enjoyment of this excellent collection could be increased by prefacing each story with some information about the author and his or her other works. Murder at the Gardner, by Jane Langton. With illustrations by the author. New York: St. Martin's Press/A Joan Kahn Book. 353 pp. $17.95.

Jane Langton is the author of six other suspense novels starring Homer Kelly, a retired police detective who lectures at Harvard. Homer is asked by the trustees of the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston to investigate some strange goings-on; paintings have been moved, and tadpoles have been dumped into the courtyard pool. The incidents continue, culminating in the murder of a museum benefactor.

This novel is slow to get going, and the reader knows the identity of the murderer long before Homer does. It has other charms, however: a cast of eccentric characters; the author's sense of humor, with which she pokes gentle fun at the worlds of art and big business; and her delightful descriptions and line drawings of the Gardner's art collection. Element of Doubt, by Dorothy Simpson. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons. 265 pp. $14.95.

This is Dorothy Simpson's seventh mystery starring Detective Inspector Luke Thanet. Like Ruth Rendell's Wexford and Sheila Radley's Quantrill, Thanet is a married man with children, whose beat is a small community in England.

When beautiful, promiscuous Nerine Tarrant is found dead under the balcony of her home, Thanet and his partner, Sgt. Mike Lineham, are called in to investigate. They quickly compile a long list of suspects, a list that includes Nerine's missing teen-age son, Damon. Damon's involvement creates a conflict of interest between Thanet and his wife, Joan; Damon is on probation for a drug charge, and Joan is his probation officer.

Simpson mixes social commentary, psychological insight, and sympathetic characters with an intriguing mystery, as do Rendell and Radley. Yet Simpson's novels lack bite. The Long Kill, by Patrick Ruell. Woodstock, Vt.: The Countryman Press/A Foul Play Press Book. 251 pp. $15.95.

Patrick Ruell is a pseudonym of Reginald Hill, the author of the Dalziel and Pascoe mystery novels. This is a haunting, suspenseful novel that contains good writing, well-drawn characters, a tender love story, and beautiful descriptions of England's Lake District. The reader will find himself rooting for the hero, or antihero, a professional assassin working for the British government who wants to leave his past behind him, only to find that this is impossible.

Jaysmith, aware of a slight weakening in one eye, misses his latest target and decides to retire. He buys a house in the Lake District and falls in love with a young widow, Anya, who has a small son. Then Jaysmith is shocked to learn that his missed target is Anya's father. There is one surprise after another as Jaysmith tries to cancel the contract on Anya's father and untangle himself from his former connections. There are many coincidences in this novel, yet the characters' motivations make the twisting plot believable. The Way We Die Now, by Charles Willeford. New York: Random House. 256 pp. $15.95.

This is Charles Willeford's fourth novel featuring his offbeat hero, Miami homicide detective Hoke Mosely.

Hoke is reluctant to accept an undercover assignment investigating the disappearance of Haitian migrant workers in the Everglades, for two reasons: His new neighbor is a man he helped send to prison for murder, and he is finally getting somewhere in his investigation of a year-old murder. Hoke takes the assignment, however, and he almost gets killed in a shockingly brutal episode involving a redneck farmer and his hired hand. In contrast, there are pleasant developments in the personal lives of Hoke, his two daughters, and his former partner, Ellita Sanchez.

The novel is full of contrasts between the homey and the sleazy elements that exist side by side in Willeford's Miami.

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