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Yasmina Khadra, , trans. from the French by Aubrey Botsford. . Toby, $12.95 (250pp) ISBN 978-1-59264-119-2

Former high-ranking Algerian army officer Khadra, who's now an exile in France and who first used a female pseudonym to avoid military censorship, presents a brutal and cynical look at his native country in his intriguing second Inspector Llob mystery (after 2003's Morituri ). Llob's reunion with Ben Ouda, a leading intellectual and power broker who recently published a bestselling book criticizing the Algerian regime, is followed by a series of vicious murders, ostensibly by a gang of Islamic fundamentalists. The inspector's investigations lead him to a colorful cast of suspects, but the trail takes a major detour when members of the hit squad themselves begin to turn up dead. Llob and his team step on toes with abandon and follow the corpses through various strata of Algiers society. For the many not conversant with current Algerian politics, this will serve as an easy-to-digest guide to life under a military regime constantly threatened by religious extremists. Llob, whose Mike Hammer–like comfort level with violence is highly disturbing, is too unattractive a character to engage readers emotionally. The oppressive atmosphere and the unfamiliar location will make it a challenge for this deserving series to find a wide U.S. readership. (Mar. 15)

FYI: Khadra, the pen name of Mohammed Moulessehoul, is also the author of The Swallows of Kabul (Forecasts, Dec. 1, 2003).