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Detective novels take on the world

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Foreign detective novels aren't for everyone. They are often pricey: Many are trade paperbacks that cost about $15, compared to $6.99 for mass-market paperbacks. They also tend to be more literary and less action-packed than their American cousins, says Peter Cannon, mysteries editor at Publishers Weekly.

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Some common mystery genres aren't well-represented outside the United States and Britain. With the exception of Mr. Smith's Botswana series, there aren't many foreign mysteries in the "cozy" category - the soft-boiled Jessica Fletcher-type mystery that typically takes place in some delightfully quirky village.

There's also a shortage of foreign equivalents of American novels by the likes of Janet Evanovich, and Robert B. Parker, which are filled with snappy dialogue. But that's not to say that all foreign writers lack firsthand knowledge of English. Several well-respected mystery authors who set their books in other countries, including Donna Leon (Italy) and John Burdett (Thailand), are Americans or Britons who live abroad.

It's hard to predict the next hot region for mystery novels, but some observers expect to see more detectives from Asia and Africa. And booksellers are still waiting for South America and Germany to produce mystery fiction.

If they do, they'll tap into a deep human fascination with crime and justice, says Huang of the Indiana bookstore. "That's the main thing about mysteries: You want questions answered and the bad guys brought to justice. That's something that any mystery reader can relate to, regardless of where the book is set."

Get a clue: a sampling of worldly sleuths

In the Golden Age of mysteries, the 1930s and '40s, American and British characters had the crime-solving field virtually to themselves. Today, mysteries set in exotic lands and written by foreign writers are gaining popularity. Here are some foreign sleuths and their beats:

Sleuth: Detective John Cardinal

Setting: Ontario, Canada

Author: Giles Blunt

Sample novel: "Forty Words for Sorrow"

Critics say: Gripping tale is Canada's first great crime novel

Sleuth: Detective Kurt Wallander

Setting: Sweden

Author: Henning Mankell

Sample novel: "The Fifth Woman"

Critics say: Dark police procedural style reflects the Scandinavian character

Sleuth:Inspector Salvo Montalbano

Setting: Sicily, Italy

Author: Andrea Camilleri

Sample novel: "The Terra-Cotta Dog"

Critics say: Sardonic look at the Mafia and Sicilian life.

Sleuth: Precious Ramotswe

Setting: Botswana

Author: Alexander McCall Smith

Sample novel: "The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency"

Critics say: Charming story of Botswana's first female detective.

Sleuth: Inspector Cetin Ikmen

Setting: Istanbul, Turkey

Author: Barbara Nadel

Sample novel: "Belshazzar's Daughter"

Critics say: Evocative, engaging exploration of Turkey's underground world.

Sleuth: Commissioner Guido Brunetti

Setting: Venice, Italy

Author: Donna Leon

Sample novel: "Death at La Fenice"

Critics say: Smart plot filled with local flavor.

Sleuth: Shan Tao Yun

Setting: Tibet

Author: Eliot Pattison

Sample novel: "The Skull Mantra"

Critics say: Exciting, enlightening thriller reveals Tibetan culture.

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