Interesting locales not only make a story more intriguing but may, in fact, make the story possible. Events that shake up life in a small town may hardly be noticed in the city, for example.

  • "Invisible City" by Julia Dahl (St. Martin's, $24.99, 304 pages) A number of mysteries in recent years have focused on the little-known Amish community. What Laura Bradford and P.L. Gaus have done for the Amish, Dahl does for the Hasidim.

    New York's Hasidic community is an Orthodox Jewish group that values charismatic mysticism. Seeing the secular world as sinful and dangerous, it is insular, self-regulating and secretive.

    But the death of a Hasidic woman, whose body is found in a scrap yard, brings unwanted scrutiny. Some of it comes from Rebekah Roberts, a young journalist working as a freelancer for a New York newspaper. Rebekah is the daughter of a Hasidic woman who abandoned the family after the birth to return to the community she had fled. Rebekah grew up in Florida with her Christian father, torn between hating her absent mother and longing to know her.

    The situation is a powder keg, and there's lots of tinder: the off-duty Orthodox cop who feeds Rebekah information, the police willingness to turn a blind eye and the machinations inside the newspaper. The story is an excellent debut effort, a mystery set in an alien culture right around the corner.

  • "This Private Plot" by Alan Beechey (Poisoned Pen Press, $24.95, 316 pages) Oliver Swithin, writer of children's stories, is visiting his parents in their small English village when he discovers the body of a former radio broadcaster. It appears he was driven to suicide by blackmail.

    But Oliver's girlfriend, Effie, a police officer, isn't so sure. This sets Oliver on a course to discover what the blackmail is all about. It turns out nothing is what it seems and that Synne, the tiny village, hides many secrets.

    Oliver is a sympathetic character. Indeed, the book is full of believable and interesting people. Beechey has created an entertaining puzzle.

  • "Under Cold Stone" by Vicki Delany (Poisoned Pen Press, $24.95, 306 pages) Constable Molly Smith leaves her post in Trafalgar, British Columbia, to go to the aid of her mother, vacationing in Banff, Alberta with her new boyfriend, the chief constable (and Molly's boss).

    The older couple's romantic weekend takes a turn for the worse when a young man is murdered, and the chief constable's estranged son, Matt, becomes suspect No. 1.

    There's lot of stuff going on: a controversial resort development project at home, some illegal tourist-gouging activities, Matt's mother's rage, his insecure girlfriend and her attempts to make ends meet. Delany does very well at switching from one viewpoint to another.

    What doesn't work so well is the character of Molly's mother, Lucky. She is an environmental activist kind enough to befriend Matt's mother, despite her hostility. But she blithely persists in calling Molly "Moonlight," despite the younger woman's pleas for her to stop. That doesn't sound so compassionate.

  • "Hunting Shadows" by Charles Todd (William Morrow, $25.99, 330 pages) Inspector Ian Rutledge, the Scotland Yard detective who carries his World War I wounds in his psyche, is back for the 16th time. The story begins with the murder of a wedding guest. A second, equally incomprehensible murder then occurs in a nearby town. The two victims were strangers to each other, and Rutledge is hard-pressed to find a link.

    Unfortunately for him, the investigation stirs up wartime memories -- never far beneath the surface in any case.

    Rutledge is one of the great troubled figures of historical mystery fiction. There are no easy answers, either for the double homicide or for Rutledge himself.

    Roberta Alexander is a member of the National Book Critics Circle. Reach her at ralex711@yahoo.com.