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The heartbreak of the Irish

DROWN ALL THE DOGS, by Thomas Adcock, Pocket Books Hardcover, $20.

The title of this book comes from a bit of doggerel by William Butler Yeats, and like the poet, this book is Irish to the core. Beyond being a hauntingly articulate and action-crammed account of a man in search of a father, it is an illuminating history of a patch of time in Ireland when many famous people (including Yeats) flirted with the Nazi Party, since Germany and Ireland had a common enemy: England.

New York detective Neil Hockaday is in search of even a fragment of the father he never knew. His deceased mother told him he was missing in action in World War II. With his glamorous black actress girlfriend, Ruby Flagg, he goes to Ireland to visit his father's "dying" brother _ but not before his boyhood parish priest commits suicide, his policeman drinking buddy disappears and his airport driver is murdered in the streets of Dublin.

Hock hasn't much chance to enjoy the scenery. The old, unreconciled "troubles" that have plagued Ireland for centuries are behind the lies, murders and suicides that follow him on his journey. Hock does find his father. But it is hardly a joyous reunion. He philosophically closes the book with "there's no sense to being Irish unless you know the world is going to break your heart."

BLACKMAIL, by Parnell Hall, Mysterious Press, $19.95.

Stanley Hastings _ even the name is astonishingly ordinary! _ is perhaps the most "normal" detective working in murder mysteries today. He's married and shares household chores and child-rearing with his wife, Alice, and while he'd like to pursue his acting career, he earns more by hiring out to attorneys to chase ambulances.

One fine day, "Marlena," a Philip Marlowe-style stunner, hires him to pay off a blackmailer for some pornographic photos. Easy day. Except the photos are not of Marlena, who is then found murdered. When the blackmailer gets iced and the money's missing, Hastings is first a suspect, then pushed into solving the crime by his wife. His search for the truth takes him to New York's labyrinthine world of actors, homosexuals, blackmailers and pornographers. The plot ricochets around a large cast of suspects before Hastings figures out the MacGuffin. The dirty pictures weren't part of the crime's Big Picture.

ALL SHALL BE WELL, by Deborah Crombie, Scribners, $20.

Like Martha Grimes, Deborah Crombie is an American writer who sets her mystery books in England. Her protagonists are Sgt. Gemma James, who is a single mother, and Superintendent Duncan Kincaid.

Kincaid's neighbor, the terminally ill Jasmine Dent, is found dead in her flat. The verdict is not suicide, but who would kill someone who has, at most, a handful of weeks to live? Plenty of people, it turns out. The plot twists back to Jasmine's tangled youth and is solved by an ending that's hardly happy. Except for the deceased's cat. This is a dark, brooding, leisurely paced read that's satisfying in a most disquieting sort of way.

Kiki Olson's mysteries column appears monthly.

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