A good crime novel must have good writing, interesting characters, and a suspenseful plot. But what makes a crime novel outstanding and worthy of reread-ing is the characterization - characters that seem real, that grow and interact with one another, and that linger in your mind after you have finished the novel.
Charles Scribner's Sons usually publishes two Scribner Crime Novels each month. Past and present Scribner crime novelists include such well-known names as the late John Creasey, P. D. James, Simon Brett, Dorothy Salisbury Davis, and Robert Barnard. The novels vary in style and type of mystery, but they are united under the Scribner Crime Novel imprint and a generally high level of quality in the writing, plotting, and characterization.
Here are four recently published Scribner Crime Novels that uphold the Scribner standards and whose characters make them worthy of rereading.
Murder on Ice is Ted Wood's second novel. His first, ''Dead in the Water,'' was the winner of the 1983 Scribner Crime Novel Award. It introduced Reid Bennett, half of the one-man, one-dog police force of a small, isolated Ontario resort town called Murphy's Harbour. The canine half is Sam, Bennett's endearing police dog and a very important character.
''Dead in the Water'' was a fresh, exciting mystery novel with an engaging, resourceful hero-detective, a man of integrity and an ex-Marine who began his career with the Toronto police force. ''Dead in the Water'' is a hard act to follow, but ''Murder on Ice'' upholds the reputation it so quickly established for Wood. I have only two criticisms of ''Murder on Ice'': The plot, centered on the abduction of a midwinter festival queen by members of a women's liberation group, has a bit too much violence for my taste; and Sam plays too small a role in solving the crime.
Florence, Italy, Magdalen Nabb's home and the setting for her third novel, Death in Springtime, is a far cry from Murphy's Harbour, Ontario. The novelty of an April snowfall complicates the investigation of the abduction of a wealthy American girl for Marshall Guarnaccia and Captain Maestrangelo of the Italian police, or carabinieri. The trail of clues leads them to the presumed culprits, Sardinian shepherds who live in the Tuscan countryside surrounding the city. Nabb's story is intriguing, her characters are amusing and unusual, and the Florentine setting, like Ted Wood's Murphy's Harbour, is a pleasant change from the more usual English and American locations.
Death of a Minor Poet is the third William Krasner novel to feature Detective Sam Birge, the middle-aged chief of homocide in an American city. When Birge and his assistant, the department dandy, Lt. Charley Hagen, investigate the murder of young, aspiring writer Wesley Gowan, they uncover a tangled web of human relationships, thwarted hopes, and passions. Birge is a wonderful character - hard-boiled, yet perceptive and understanding.
Sheila Radley's Detective Chief Inspector Douglas Quantrill of Breckham Market, a small village in Suffolk, England, reminds me of Krasner's Sam Birge and of Ruth Rendell's Chief Inspector Wexford. Radley's fourth novel, The Quiet Road to Death, lives up to the promise shown in her first novel, ''Death in the Morning.'' All four of her novels feature Doug Quantrill.
In ''The Quiet Road to Death,'' Quantrill must solve the murders of two women while he adjusts to his new female partner, Detective Sgt. Hilary Lloyd, and confronts his former partner, ambitious young Martin Tait, now a member of the regional crime squad. Women police detectives are a rarity in crime fiction, and Quantrill has reservations about working with a female partner, although he and Lloyd are united initially by their dislike of Tait. By the end of the novel, a feeling of admiration and understanding has developed between them.
Death in Springtime, by Magdalen Nabb. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons (May 31). 165 pp. $11.95.
Death of a Minor Poet, by William Krasner. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons (June 6). 180 pp. $11.95.
Murder on Ice, by Ted Wood. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons (June 20). 182 pp. $12.95.
The Quiet Road to Death, by Sheila Radley. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons (May 31). 190 pp. $11.95.