• John Lescroart delivers with 'The Keeper'

The Keeper (Atria Books), by John Lescroart

John Lescroart has been delivering compelling legal thrillers for years, and his latest, "The Keeper," is another baffling and terrific read.

Abe Glitsky was a homicide detective for some time, but now he's retired -- and bored. When his friend, attorney Dismas Hardy, asks for his help, he jumps at the chance to get back in the game. Hardy's client, Hal Chase, claims everything was fine when he left his house to pick up his brother at the airport. When they returned, Hal's wife, Katie, has vanished.

Hal reports her disappearance, but the police believe something more sinister has occurred. The drive to the airport doesn't take as much time as Hal took to get there, and his brother's plane was delayed. Hal claims he was at a bar waiting for the plane to arrive, but there is no evidence that he was there. To make things more complicated, the police find Katie's blood at the scene of her disappearance, and evidence reveals their marriage was on the rocks. Was Hal having an affair? Then Hardy learns that his own wife, a marriage counselor, was seeing Katie professionally. What really happened that night, and is Hal manipulating Hardy to escape justice?

The reason that Lescroart's novels are so readable is his ability to take compelling characters and baffling mysteries and mix them together like a top-rated chef. Many writers include great plot elements but leave a bad taste in the mouth with a subpar ending. Lescroart satisfies with every bite, and the finale is delicious.

  • Wolverine Bros. is fast-paced mystery

Wolverine Bros. Freight & Storage (Minotaur Books), by Steve Ulfelder

Conway Sax is an ex-con, a former race car driver and a skilled mechanic who is fiercely loyal to his friends -- especially those in the maverick Alcoholics Anonymous group he credits with saving his life.

So when Eudora Spoon, a group member and close friend who is dying of cancer, asks Sax to track down her missing son, Kenny, he immediately sets off for Los Angeles where Kenny has been pursuing an on-again, off-again acting career.

There, he learns Kenny has been kidnapped by a violent street gang, rescues the young man and escapes through a hail of bullets. But shortly after Sax returns Kenny to his family home in Massachusetts, Eudora is murdered.

Sax, not one to trust the authorities to do their jobs, vows vengeance. But against whom?

Did the street gang, which has a long reach, kill Eudora as payback for Kenny's rescue? Then again, Kenny and his brother Harmon, the local police chief, both stand to gain by inheriting their mother's valuable land holdings. And what about the money people who are lusting after Eudora's land as the site for the state's first full-fledged casino?

As Conway wades into the case, he is also drawn into an affair with Harmon's wife Tricia -- a move that seems certain to cloud his judgment.

The result is a fast-paced, highly satisfying mystery told in the same muscular, vivid prose that distinguished the first three novels in this Edgar Award-nominated series.

"Wolverine Bros. Freight & Storage" solidifies Ulfelder's place as one of the best crime novelists to come out of Massachusetts since Dennis Lehane burst on the scene two decades ago.

  • McMurtry reimagines gunfight at the OK Corral

The Last Kind Words Saloon (Liveright Publishing Corp.), by Larry McMurtry

Larry McMurtry, descendant of Texas cattlemen, can't stop writing stories about the American West. His latest novel, "The Last Kind Words Saloon," reimagines the gunfight at the O.K. Corral, an event he brought to life more vividly in his 2006 novel, "Telegraph Days."

In this version, itinerant lawman Wyatt Earp and his pal Doc Holliday, the dentist turned gambler/gunslinger, are in the frontier town of Long Grass, Texas, where Wyatt's wife, Jessie, tends bar at the Last Kind Words Saloon.

A big cattle deal is going down between an English baron and Charles Goodnight, a real-life Texas Panhandle cattleman whom McMurtry has written about before. Historical figures like Buffalo Bill Cody and the Kiowa warriors Satank and Satanta drift in and out of the action, as do fictional characters from McMurtry's earlier works, including Nellie Courtright, the lusty frontier journalist/narrator of "Telegraph Days."

Inevitably, Wyatt and Doc make their way to Tombstone, Arizona, where Wyatt reunites with his lawmen brothers Virgil and Morgan and begins feuding with the Clanton gang. The climactic events of Oct. 26, 1881, unfold in a few sentences, ending on an odd note of marital discord between Jessie and Wyatt.

McMurtry clearly isn't interested in burnishing the Wyatt Earp legend -- he's portrayed as a surly, shiftless wife beater -- but he doesn't offer much of a counter history either. The novel -- he calls it "a ballad in prose whose characters are afloat in time" -- ends with an epilogue narrated by Nellie, a sort of alter ego for McMurtry, both of whom have made good money in Hollywood writing about the West.

Years after the gunfight, she discovers that Wyatt and Jessie are living in a dilapidated bungalow in San Pedro, California. Wyatt is "rheumy-eyed" and doesn't remember much about the shootout. She regrets going to visit them until she spies the sign for the Last Kind Words Saloon in their junk-strewn yard.

"Not quite sure why I wanted it," she offers to buy it. When Jessie gives her the sign, she sticks it in the back of her car and drives home to Santa Monica. McMurtry -- the Pulitzer Prize and Oscar-winning author of dozens of books and screenplays about the West, and an avid collector of rare books -- may be suggesting that nearly a century and a half after the closing of the American frontier, its battered artifacts are as resonant as its stories.

-- ASSOCIATED PRESS