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A PERFECT MURDER, by Peter Abrahams, Ballantine, $24.95.

Patricia Highsmith's classic Strangers on a Train (later made into an equally classic film by Alfred Hitchcock) described "a perfect crime." Two strangers who wanted to bump off someone near and dear get the other to do the deed for him _ so there's no connecting the killer to the victim. The beauty in Abrahams' crime lies in the same unconnected premise. Francie Cullingwood is a high-flyer in Boston's world of art acquisitions. Her lover is a hotshot radio therapist. Both are unhappily married, and when Francie's house-husband Roger finds out about her affair, his high IQ helps him put a devious plan into motion. This is a glitzy tale of love, revenge and murder with some nifty surprise twists.


Ann Rule's "true-life" crime stories read better than most fiction murder plots _ even though she must stick to the facts. In her latest collection of killings among friends and family, she highlights the case of Scotty Scurlock, a Seattle preacher's son of dazzling good looks who became one of America's "most wanted." Starting as a narcotics dealer in Hawaii and Washington, he went on to become a Robin Hood-styled thief, aided and abetted by his equally attractive friends, Kevin, the artist, and Mark, the poet and musician. All charmers, they were adored by women and admired by men. His career ended in cinematic tragedy in 1996 when the plans for his 20th bank robbery _ Seattle's Seafirst Bank _ came to dust. Other stories are: "The Peeping Tom," "The Girl Who Fell in Love with Her Killer" and "The Least Likely Suspect."

MOSAIC, by Gayle Lynds, Pocket Books Hardcover, $24.

The beautiful concert pianist Julian Austrian went blind a decade ago due to stage fright in extremis. However, her talent hasn't diminished. At a concert at the Royal Albert Hall, she regains her sight, but the miracle is a bitter one. The same night, she witnesses her mother's violent death during a burglary _ and loses her sight again. While made to look like a hold-up, the crime was murder and coincided with a mysterious package sent by her grandfather. From the stratosphere of concert celebrities, Julia enters the gritty world of CIA analyst Sam Keeline, and together (with her sight returning through hypnosis) they fit the mosaics of a plot that weaves back to the White House and its slick presidential hopeful. Lynds is a think-tank editor with top-secret clearance and breathes authenticity into her artistic and political landscapes.

THE BALLOON MAN, by Charlotte MacLeod, Mysterious Press, $23.

"Lite" mystery writer MacLeod's benign detective heroes, Bostonian Sarah Kelling and her husband, Max Bittersohn, specialize in recovering stolen art treasure. In this adventure, Sarah is preparing a posh wedding for Max's nephew at her North Shore mansion. Things conspire to ruin the happy event when a hot-air balloon lands on the wedding tent _ with a corpse underneath it. Then, among the wedding presents, jewelry that was to have belonged to Sarah but had gone missing since the death of her first husband turns up. Max disappears and rematerializes to unravel the puzzles. This is as light, airy and enjoyable as a hot-air balloon ride.

DRINKER OF BLOOD, by Lynda S. Robinson, Mysterious Press, $22.

Glamorous Queen Nefertiti has been murdered, and ancient Egyptian detective Lord Meren is on the investigation. A favorite groom of the pharaoh also is mysteriously killed. Meren begins to suspect the underlying evil behind the deaths, but court intrigue gets him into hot water _ and under sentence of death. There is also a skirmish with Libyan border bandits. While this murder mystery is set in ancient times, its characters and events have a sharp sense of today.

Kiki Olson's Mysteries column appears monthly.