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    © St. Petersburg Times, published March 4, 2001

    ICED, by Jenny Siler (Henry Holt, $24)

    In the unrelenting freeze of a Missoula, Mont., winter, author Siler pits her heroine, ex-con and repo woman Meg Gardner, in the middle of a murder case where she becomes an unwilling suspect. A year out of prison, Meg is as hard-boiled as an Easter egg and isn't too concerned when the former owner of a Jeep she's recovered meets his end in what appears to be a drunken brawl -- until the Jeep is stolen in front of her home. That puts her in the frame and soon she is involved in government planes gone missing and a chain of related yet mysterious deaths. Meg makes female PI's like V.I. Warshawski and Kinsey Millhone seem as demure as Little Women, and the unforgiving chill of the landscape resounds with alarming authenticity. It should -- it's author Siler's hometown.

    COLD FLAT JUNCTION, by Martha Grimes (Viking, $23.95)

    American Martha Grimes is best known for her English cozies titled after real-life pubs (I Am the Only Running Footman, The Man with a Load of Mischief) but in 1996 with Hotel Paradise, she's set her mysteries closer to home by introducing girl-sleuth, 12-year-old Emma Graham. Emma's voice, reminiscent of the heroines of the Brontes and Daphne DuMaurier, says of Cold Flat Junction, "It's the kind of place you might look out on from a train window and think, Thank God I don't live there, what a boring town, what an empty place." In other words, the perfect setting to discover the secrets behind a murder that happened 40 years before. This is a highly literate tale of death and deceit that occurred in a once-fashionable watering hole. Interwoven is the coming of age of a highly articulate young woman.

    CRUZATTE AND MARIA, by Peter Bowen (St. Martin's Minotaur, $22.95)

    Montanan author, cowboy, folk singer and fishing guide, Bowen's hero is Gabriel Du Pre, a tracker/amateur sleuth who is called upon as an adviser for a film about the Lewis and Clark expedition. It sounds like the dream freelance gig until Gabriel arrives at the shooting site to find a feud has developed between the locals and the filmmakers. The star quits, the props are set on fire and several bodies are fished out of the Missouri River. Another mystery unravels when Du Pre uncovers a secret cache of what appears to be the actual Lewis and Clark journals. Bowen breezily captures the tension that occurs when the West Coast meets up with the rural West.

    BEULAH HILL, by William Heffernan (Simon and Schuster, $25)

    It's backwoods Vermont in the 1930s. The Great Depression has created tension and bitterness. In Germany, upstart Adolf Hitler looms on the international horizon, but in Beulah Hill, the fear and danger center on a white man who was murdered on land belonging to the last remaining black family in the small town of Beulah Hill. Pulitzer Prize nominee Heffernan delivers a powerful slice of interracial Americana life and death along with a riveting whodunit.

    THE DEMON ARCHER, by P.C. Doherty (St. Martin's Minotaur, $22.95)

    Winters were beastly cold in medieval England, and when 14th century sleuth Hugh Corbett is asked to find the murderer of Lord Henry Fitzalan, he's spoiled for choices when it comes to suspects. Everyone seemed to want the lord 6-feet under. Selfish, lecherous and known to romp with witches, he was a man of few friends. Doherty writes for Brother Cadfael fans and lards his tale with prioresses, princes and plump serving wenches.

    - Kiki Olson is a writer who lives in London.

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