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Mike Ripley's Crime File - April 2007

'Don't Cry For Me Aberystwyth' by Malcolm Pryce; 'Rules, Regs and Rotten Eggs' by H R F Keating; 'A Coin For The Ferryman' by Rosemary Rowe; 'The Poisoner of Ptah' by Paul Doherty

The title of Malcolm Pryce's new book is Donít Cry For Me Aberystwyth (Bloomsbury, £12.99) and while you might not shed many tears for that noble Welsh resort, you could end up crying with laughter.

This is a wonderfully surreal spoof of a Cold War thriller, featuring Pryce's series hero Louie Knight, Aberystwyth's best (and only) private detective who is hired by the Queen of Denmark to investigate the murder of an Israeli spy dressed as Father Christmas in Aberystwyth's Chinatown.

If that is not bizarre enough, the plot uncoils to involve Adolf Eichmann, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, the Welsh version of Rin Tin Tin and the militant (and Welsh) fundamentalist Soldiers For Jesus.

Confused? You probably will be, but you'll also be in hysterics at this zany comic pastiche and be warned: the scenes at Lampeter College and in the flea-bitten circus could make you laugh enough to damage your funny bone.

No one writes a detective story quite like H R F Keating anymore. His latest, Rules, Regs and Rotten Eggs (Allison & Busby, £18.99), features Detective Superintendent Harriet Martens who has somehow acquired the nick-name 'The Hard Detective' even though she is a bit of a softy, allowing herself to be bullied and ignored by subordinates, superiors, witnesses and suspects alike during her investigation of the attempted, and then successful, murder of a pro-fox hunting former MP.

The Harriet Martens investigating technique is gentle to say the least, possibly too gentle and she seems too easily distracted and too reluctant to think badly of anyone, even though in a way, that is what she's paid to do. This approach suits Harry Keating's erudite and whimsical style perfectly, but if she was on telly, his female cop heroine would be the sort played by Felicity Kendall, not Helen Mirren.

If you want to find out what life was like in Roman Britain and have only three days in which to do it, don't bother with Time Team, read Rosemary Rowe's A Coin For The Ferryman (Headline, £18.99) instead.

Set near Gloucester in the year AD 189, this is not just a satisfying murder mystery, solved by the mosaic-maker detective Libertus, but almost a text book guide to Roman law, religion and superstition as it applied to ordinary people simply trying to live a peaceful family life on the edge of the mighty Roman Empire.

Leaping back even further in time, Paul Doherty's The Poisoner of Ptah (Headline, £19.99) is set in Egypt in 1470 BC and demonstrates that the threat of chemical warfare by terrorists is not a modern concept.

As usual, Doherty spins a wonderful yarn and delights in bringing to life the sights, sounds, rituals and smells of an ancient and mysterious culture.

Mike Ripley is the author of the 'Angel' series and writes a regular column for the Birmingham Post.

last updated 4/05/2007 12:09