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Book roundup

The LightHouse, by P.D. James (Alfred A. Knopf)

A famous author is found hanging from a lighthouse on an island with less than a dozen inhabitants. While the Home Office thinks Cmdr. Adam Dalgliesh should be able to wrap things up quickly, narrowing down the murderer may take a bit longer - since most of the islanders detested the dead man. James's new mystery thankfully pulls back from the lurid material of "The Murder Room," and offers a wider role to Inspector Kate Miskin, Dalgliesh's faithful Girl Friday. Grade: B+

13 Steps Down, by Ruth Rendell (Random House)

The Odd Couple have nothing on Michael "Mix" Cellini and his elderly landlord. He's pathologically neat; she takes housecleaning tips from Miss Havisham. She reads all day; his book collection consists only of stories about a serial killer who lived in his neighborhood. Underneath, both are harboring blighted childhoods and secret obsessions: hers with her mother's doctor, his with a fashion model. But only one becomes a murderer. Rendell's newest mystery is eerily good - its darkness informed by the examination of the British class system that runs through the best of her work. Grade: A-

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The Guynd, by Belinda Rathbone (Quantuck Lane Press)

Even before "Under the Tuscan Sun," memoirs of Americans' attempts to repair crumbling European houses had become a, ahem, cottage industry. The latest entrant chronicles historian Belinda Rathbone's marriage to a Scottish laird, and their efforts to save his ancestral home. (We're not in "Monarch of the Glen" territory - there are no servants, wacky or otherwise.) Here, the hilarious construction story is replaced by the hilarious thrift story. Among the items her husband saves: old egg cartons, empty butter wrappers, and a literal ton of paper (to sell when the price goes up). Sadly, as "The Guynd" (rhymes with wind) takes shape, their romance dissolves. By the end, the laird shows up only to make disparaging remarks and ensure the heat isn't turned on before Dec. 1. Grade: B-


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