Lush descriptions of the beautiful central California coastline, from the redwood forests to Monterey Bay, lift Laura Crum's Forged: A Gail McCarthy Mystery, her eighth horse cozy (after 2003's Hayburner). After stumbling on a dying farrier in her barn, horse vet Gail finds herself at the top of the suspect list in what turns out to be a homicide. Individual horses are as memorable as the human characters in this tale of romance and suspense. Agent, Linda Allen.(St. Martin's Minotaur/Dunne, $22.95 208p ISBN 0-312-32327-1)
African-American poet and PI Talba Wallis and her boss Eddie Valentino investigate a society-page murder that gets uglier by the minute in Edgar-winner Julie Smith's fast-paced Louisiana Lament, the third in the series (after 2002's Louisiana Bigshot). From biker bar to college campus, the chase is on, and readers will remain hooked until the killer's comeuppance in the clever conclusion. Agent, Vicky Vijur.(Forge, $24.95 304p ISBN 0-765-30553-4)
Acclaimed for his Charlie Resnick series (Lonely Hearts, etc.), British author John Harvey introduces a new detective hero, Frank Elder, in Flesh and Blood, a competent if plodding story of an old unsolved case and a teenage girl's disappearance. While the dogged Elder shares many habits with Resnick, from a prodigious appetite for common food to a difficulty with maintaining relationships, he lacks his predecessor's zest for life. Agent, Kimberly Witherspoon at Witherspoon Associates.(Carroll & Graf/Penzler, $25 384p ISBN 0-7867-1359-3)
In Laura Levine's Killer Blonde: A Jaine Austen Mystery, her third cozy to feature sassy freelance writer and sometime sleuth Jaine Austen (after 2003's Last Writes), Jaine agrees to ghostwrite a book of hostess tips for SueEllen Kingsley, a Beverly Hills socialite. When the abusive, self-centered SueEllen gets electrocuted in her bathtub, Jaine must do what she can to exonerate the chief suspect in the murder, the victim's endearing, chubby teenage stepdaughter. The identity of the real killer comes as an abrupt if smart surprise. Agent, Evan Marshall.(Kensington, $22 240p ISBN 0-7582-0162-1)
Fans of John Dickson Carr's ingenious impossible crime stories will delight in Joseph Commings's Banner Deadlines: The Impossible Files of Senator Brooks U. Banner, a masterful collection of short stories, one previously unpublished, combining terrifying, seemingly supernatural murders with elegant, logical fair-play solutions. The eccentric sleuth will remind many of Carr's ribald, shrewd and idiosyncratic Sir Henry Merrivale, and the confounding situations—including a vampire wearing an iron mask, a black friar who vanishes from a locked cell and a smoking gun fired through a sealed envelope without leaving a hole—rank with some of the best efforts of locked-room masters such as Clayton Rawson, Hake Talbot and Peter Godfrey. (Crippen & Landru [www.crippenlandru.com], $29 228p ISBN 1-885941-96-X; $19 paper ISBN -97-8)
Correction: The title of Mark de Castrique's novel prior to Grave Undertaking (Forecasts, May 17) is Dangerous Undertaking.