Crime

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THE BETHLEHEM MURDERS BY MATT REES (Atlantic Books, £12.99)

THIS debut novel by a former Jerusalem bureau head for Time magazine is absolutely indispensable. Set in the Israeli-occupied West Bank birthplace of Christ, it's an absorbing crime novel, but so very much more – a cruelly vivid picture of life in Palestine today.

A middle-aged school teacher finds, in attempting a murder investigation, that he is up against not only the Israeli army but Palestinian gangs, some of them dedicated to liberation, others simply cruel and corrupt. I hope this is the start of a series.

DAYS OF ATONEMENT BY MICHAEL GREGORIO (Faber, 12.99)

SET 200 years ago in French-occupied Prussia, Days of Atonement features a joint investigation by a Prussian magistrate and a French criminologist into the murder of three children.

The evocation of the poverty, hunger, squalor and freezing cold prevalent in that season, time and place is brilliant. The investigation itself is gripping – and, resonating with the book's title, vicious anti-Semitism is an added ingredient.

THE RABBIT FACTORY BY MARSHALL KARP (Allison Busby, 9.99)

IN LOS Angeles there is a rival establishment to Disneyland called Familyland, runs the premise of this novel. One of the staff, dressed in a rabbit costume, is Eddie Elkins, who would never have attained the payroll if his employers had known that he was a registered paedophile.

Was Elkins the victim of a revenge-killing, or was his death part of a lethal campaign to ruin Lamaar Studios, owners of Familyland – or is there another agenda entirely? Detectives Terry Biggs and Mike Lomax investigate. At more than 600 pages, this book is overlong for a detective novel, but it's smartly written and cleverly plotted. Definitely worth sticking with.

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