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Three sizzling new mystery novels

The seasons turn. As the weather cools I’m anticipating one of my favorite cold weather pastimes. I’ll be tossing another log on the fire, pouring a cup of java, and leaning back in my recliner, cat in lap, mystery novel in hand. Ah, what bliss! Here are three exceptional new mysteries — each one a sizzling page burner:

“W is for Wasted” by Sue Grafton (Marian Wood/Putnam, 496 pages, $28.95)

Sue Grafton’s best-selling alphabet mystery series started in 1982 with “A is for Alibi.” This series featuring her beloved private investigator Kinsey Millhone has unfolded over the decade of the 1980s.

“W is for Wasted” is the 23rd book to date. As the story opens the private eye Pete Wolinsky has been found murdered at a park in the imaginary seaside California town where these stories take place. When a homeless man, R.T. Dace, is also found dead, Kinsey becomes involved because her name and phone number were in Dace’s pocket. She didn’t know him.

Sue Grafton told me she strives to write new books in this series without repeating herself. This novel’s two disparate story lines, the murdered detective, and this mysterious homeless man do eventually merge. The author is currently imagining her next title. She hinted to me that it might become “X is for Xenophobia.” We’ll know in a couple more years.

“The Thicket” by Joe R. Lansdale (Mulholland Books/Little, Brown, 340 pages, $26).

Joe Lansdale is a writer who has long been on my list of authors I wanted to check out. I finally got around to it and read his latest novel “The Thicket.” I wish I had not waited so long. Wow, what a storyteller he is!

The tale in “The Thicket” transpires in east Texas about a century ago.

The teenagers Jack Parker and his sister Lula were orphaned. A smallpox epidemic swept the region. Their parents died out on their farm. Their grandfather was taking them north to start fresh.

Our narrator Jack describes the day they boarded a primitive ferry to cross a river. As they are crossing over, their grandfather becomes involved in a deadly altercation with a bandit known as “Cutthroat.”

This event unleashes a whirlwind of wild action. Lula is abducted by the bandits.

Jack begins tracking down these criminals to rescue his sister. He is joined on this mission by an array of characters including a shotgun-wielding gravedigger, a clever dwarf who is a bounty hunter, and an enormous snorting pig. It concludes in the lawless region known as “The Thicket.”

“Shoot the Dog” by Brad Smith (Scribner, 309 pages, $22).

Virgil Cain is a farmer in the Hudson Valley of New York. A film crew comes through and hires Virgil and his team of horses to add a rustic backdrop to their motion picture.

The starlet who is starring in the film soon turns up dead. Virgil’s girlfriend, Claire, is brought in to lead the police investigation. There are numerous homicide suspects including a host of shifty Hollywood types as well as the operator of a casino. Virgil has his notions about who might have done it. But he seems more interested in harvesting his wheat.

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