Title: "Old Ways in the New World"Author: Richard Timothy...



Title: "Old Ways in the New World"

Author: Richard Timothy Conroy

Publisher: St. Martin's Press

Length, price: 304 pages, $21.95

Author Richard Timothy Conroy puts his experience in the Foreign Service to good use in this fun, if bizarre, murder mystery: It is 1976, with Washington immersed in all sorts of bicentennial celebrations, not the least of which will involve the Smithsonian in an international folklore festival. Mr. Conroy's tongue-in-cheek humor gives comeuppance to the bureaucracy that runs the semifictional Smithsonian. There are weird characters galore, all of them with bits and pieces of reality clinging to them, in the midst of murders that involve a frozen body and another stashed in a cannon.

Key to the plot is an infestation of "devil" bugs that ravage all in their path and foreign tribesmen with a decided leaning toward cannibalism. All of the affairs are handled with aplomb by Henry Scruggs, the Foreign Service officer on loan to the Smithsonian. As in all valid mysteries, the ending is convoluted and comes to a surprise climax. Title: "Women and Ghosts"

Author: Alison Lurie

Publisher: Doubleday

Length, price: 179 pages, $21

Like many writers before her, Alison Lurie has written a collection of ghost stories. But the voices of her haunted women (all suspiciously thirtysomething) are so deadpan, and the objects and situations endowed with ghostly spirits are so everyday, that the stories end up being funnier than they are scary; the malevolent spirits no worse than the mothers-in-law and the creepy husbands-to-be and the academics that populate these stories on the mortal side.

In "Ilse's House," for instance, a young woman engaged to a real jerk is haunted by his ex-wife, a potato sack of a drunken housewife.

These are caricatures of our taste for horror, Edward Gorey in the 1990s, without the knife-edged humor that has made him timeless.

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