This dazzling mystery debut, which won Australia's Ned Kelly Award for best first crime novel in 1999, should win an admiring audience here as well. Corruption in an unnamed southern Italian city is endemic and expected. Mafia control is strong; politicians and bureaucrats are weak and corrupt; and the anarchists who fought fanatically in the '70s exist mainly as scapegoats for Mafia violence. The assassination of an unimportant judge who veered from the path of compliance raises no alarms, but when someone (surprisingly) blows up the investigating magistrate sent to gloss over the crime, Inspector Anders of the Rome Police takes charge. A one-time hero who lost a leg in 1982 breaking up a leftist terrorist group and now semi-retired, Anders thinks this will be his last assignment. He has a short list of people to interview no need even to take notes. He could write the report he intends to write without speaking to a soul. But as Anders quietly goes about his task in a city that reeks equally of sewage and corruption, subtle shifts occur. Starting out as a competent, wearily philosophical man earnestly looking forward to retirement, he becomes tempted to strike a blow for justice. Browne skillfully and convincingly charts his hero's conversion to a seemingly hopeless cause. The author's Italian setting is a cesspool of despair and evil with only a small flame of hope flickering. Readers will root for Inspector Anders to return to nurture that flame. (May 14) Forecast: With a blurb from Laurie R. King and good word of mouth, Browne should develop a following especially if he delivers a sequel the equal to this one.