THE OATH (A Tom McGuire Mystery) by Dennis Koller. Published by Pen Books. 334 pages. $14.99 retail.

For those in a noir-ish mood, Dennis Koller’s award-winning whodunit The Oath, the third in a series of mysteries following San Francisco homicide detective Tom McGuire, is steeped in shadowy ambiance and hard-boiled atmosphere. As a native of San Francisco, Koller knows every angle of the city and uses it to full advantage.

As befits the genre, as well as its storyline, there’s considerable exposition, yet it’s rendered in a tight, punchy style that recalls Lawrence Block’s series of Matt Scudder novels. Yet the character of McGuire, both distinctive and in many ways the quintessential noir hero, is an agreeable and empathetic protagonist. He’s tough and incorruptible, but also contemplative and tight-lipped.

Here, as McGuire investigates a bizarre murder case, circumstances force him to delve into his past as a Vietnam veteran and prisoner of war at the infamous Hanoi Hilton. In other words: This time, it’s personal. To divulge much more would spoil the twists and turns that follow, as this suspenseful but thoughtful yarn unspools satisfyingly. Koller has cooked up another winner.


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