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Mystery and intrigue in print

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JACK, KNAVE AND FOOL By Bruce Alexander G.P. Putnam's Sons 279 pp., $22.95

THE APE WHO GUARDS THE BALANCE By Elizabeth Peters Avon 376 pp., $24

THE STARGAZEY By Martha Grimes Henry Holt 354 pp., $25

MALICE IN MINIATURE By Jeanne Dams Walker 228 pp., $22.95

London: a shadowy, foggy old city populated by so many murderers, thieves, and general ne'er-do-wells a bobby couldn't swing a truncheon without knocking three out of the trees.

At least, that's what the city looks like if you take a walk through the mystery section of any bookstore. Ever since Wilkie Collins created the genre in the 1800s, the British capital has been the mystery capital as well.

Maybe it's the weather - all that moody atmosphere just begging to be put to good use. But every year, dozens of descendants of Miss Marple, Sherlock Holmes, and Roderick Alleyn rise from their pages to do battle with legions of evildoers. At this point, there are so many detectives, sidekicks, and murderers peopling England, it's a wonder their weight hasn't sunk the British Isles

beneath the sea.

The industry that made Scotland Yard a household name in Kalamazoo is showing no signs of slowing. This season's crime spree finds four veterans doing their bit to uphold the honor of the kingdom - and get home for afternoon tea.

It's elementary

In one 18th-century courtroom, justice really was blind. Sir John Fielding was a magistrate who, with his brother Henry (author of "Tom Jones"), helped create the city's first police force, the Bow Street Runners. Author Bruce Alexander has resurrected the Blind Beak of Bow Street and 1760s London with sure-handed writing and a wonderful attention to detail. In Jack, Knave, and Fool, the fifth book in the series, Sir John and his assistant Jeremy Proctor are trying to solve two very different deaths: the demise of Lord Laningham at a public concert and the disappearance of a, shall we say, less-than-honest pawnbroker. As teenage orphan Jeremy bustles about the city collecting clues and allowing fugitives to escape, he serves as the reader's eyes as well as Sir John's, capturing the flavor of life in old London.

Another formidable historical detective is also back in fine form. Amelia Peabody, parasol in hand and archaeologist-husband by her side, continues to charm in her 10th expedition. In The Ape Who Guards the Balance, Peabody takes up the suffragist cause - before the theft of antiquities sends her to Egypt. Criminology's gain is women's rights' loss, since the detective and her family could probably liberate a small country by sheer force of will.

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