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New mysteries by Michael Connelly, Kate Atkinson

Connie Ogle
McClatchy Newspapers

''Echo Park'' by Michael Connelly; Little, Brown ($26.99)

''One Good Turn'' by Kate Atkinson; Little, Brown ($24.99)

___

Longevity is not the full measure of a suspense writer -- or any writer, for that matter. But there's something to be said for a creative mind that explores the boundaries of the mystery genre over the long haul, mining it for depth and structure while introducing new situations, fresh insight and compelling puzzles to be solved.

Two new novels from imaginative and literate authors represent different levels of success at sustaining quality. Michael Connelly continues his winning streak with his 12th Harry Bosch novel, but Scotland's Kate Atkinson stumbles in her follow-up to the mesmerizing Case Histories, one of the best mysteries of 2004.

Connelly could teach a course in keeping a series lively and addictive; his Bosch novels blessedly maintain high-quality prose, absorbing explorations of crime and justice and a profoundly moving sense of melancholy. So it's no surprise that ''Echo Park'' is breathtakingly suspenseful as well as keenly perceptive of the psychology of its characters, particularly Vietnam vet Bosch, the L.A.P.D. detective who believes "Everybody matters or nobody matters" but is not above meting out his brand of justice.

Connelly revisits the familiar serial killer vs. law enforcement-nemesis conflict but he never allows Echo Park to read like a retread. Bosch is settling into the job he started in ''The Closers,'' working in the Open-Unsolved unit with his former partner Kiz Rider. He's the perfect cold-case investigator because the past never stops troubling him. One case has haunted him for 13 years: the murder of young Marie Gesto, who disappeared en route to an afternoon of horseback riding. Her body was never found.

When Bosch learns another unit is reopening the case in hopes of bargaining with smirking serial killer Raynard Waits, he is torn by conflict: He has always needed to find Marie's killer, mostly but not solely to offer her family solace. But the price for closing the case is saving Waits from the death penalty, and the idea sickens him. Connelly is not squeamish about Bosch's hardline, eye-for-an-eye beliefs or examining how they have shaped him as a cop -- and as a human being.

The author is equally skilled at illustrating the outrageously complex and frustrating police department politics and at building shivery tension, especially in one explosive scene in which Waits leads cops, politicians and a camera crew into the woods to exhume Marie's remains. It's an unforgettable setpiece but not the only one in ''Echo Park,'' one of those books that makes you happy just to be alive to read it.

Atkinson's adventure featuring retired British police officer Jackson Brodie can't even muster one moment half so intriguing as Bosch's eventful trek through the woods. She is primarily known as a literary novelist, particularly for the terrific ''Behind the Scenes at the Museum,'' a bitterly comic family saga set in pre- and post-World War II England, which won the Whitbread Award in 1995.

But in Case Histories, she dove into the world of crime, eloquently scrutinizing themes of death and retribution through the attempts of Brodie, working as a private investigator, to unravel three cold cases in England. Now a millionaire thanks to the events of Case Histories, Brodie is back in ''One Good Turn,'' retired but not for long. Unfortunately his affable presence is smothered by a clunky mess of a plot and characters -- an unappreciated wife, a timid mystery writer -- that barely rise above the level of caricature.

Brodie and his girlfriend are visiting Edinburgh for its famous arts festival, in which Julia, an aspiring but unsuccessful actress, is performing. Wandering around the city one day, Brodie finds himself among people who witness an attack on a man. The victim later vanishes, and the witnesses become linked through a confusing series of peculiar events and crimes, with Brodie unofficially trying to sort things out. He also wonders why his relationship with Julia seems strained, which is just not that big of a mystery, since she's one of the more annoying characters in modern fiction.

Atkinson saves a couple of decent surprises for the end, but reaching them requires a bit of a struggle. Promise, however, looms in the form of no-nonsense police detective Louise. With her around, the next Jackson Brodie novel should improve considerably.

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