Three new novels with Northwest settings feature characters faced with mysteries for which they must find answers.

Three new novels with Northwest settings feature characters faced with mysteries for which they must find answers.

Steve Carlson's previous novel, "Almost Graceland," was an extended meditation on the question of what might have happened if Elvis Presley's twin brother, who died at birth, had lived. This time out, Carlson, of Jacksonville, makes his mystery debut.

The detective in Carlson's "Final Exposure" (A Thomas Dunne book for St. Martin's Minotaur, 276 pages, cloth, $25.95) is David Collier, who is thrust into the role when his wife is murdered. A disgruntled lawyer who has left his firm to do something more creative, David winds up chasing unknown bad guys who shot his wife dead on their doorstep.

Why would anybody want to kill Rebecca, a photographer working on a photo essay about Northern California mansions from the 1930s? Whoever did it wants David dead, too. With his cop friend Chuck, David sets out to dig up answers and find the killer. Eventually he will discover that Rebecca's murder is tied to one of the old houses she'd been photographing.

Carlson is an actor and screenwriter who worked in movies and television for many years, and it shows in his fiction, which is built around scenes you can almost see on a screen.

Dan Bruton's first novel, "March In Line, Please" (Milner Crest Publishing, 153 pages, trade paperback, $14.95), is a coming-of-age novel based in Portland. But it is, in keeping with its Gen Y protagonist, a delayed coming of age.

Twenty-seven-year-old Ethan has it all: a beautiful girlfriend, a great job and a trendy condo. He also has a case of the apathy he assumes is part of the American Dream.

What pushes Ethan off the corporate track is that his girlfriend decides she's had enough and moves across the country. Somewhere along the way, between a strip-club brawl and being punched out by his younger sister, Ethan begins to dig up answers.

Does corporate life really lead only to a dead end? Will Ethan get the girl? Will these people ever grow up?

Bruton was born in Grants Pass and graduated from the University of Oregon. He lives in Portland.

Karl H. Schlesier's fictional "Aurora Crossing" (Texas Tech University Press, 392 pages, cloth, $27.95) is a story of the long march of Nez Perce bands in 1877, during which six bands of about 800 American Indians, counting children, covered 1,200 miles across some of the most rugged mountain ranges in North America. They fought 13 engagements with armies sent to intercept them and sought a last refuge in Canada.

Into the sweep of this history, Schlesier has placed a young Nez Perce boy named John Seton. John was raised first among whites in Idaho, then on the reservation, then with the free-roving Lamtama band on the Salmon River.

A novice in all three worlds, John is drawn into the Nez Perce War of 1877. To grow up and find his place, he must dig up answers. The most important question is whether Coyote's message is a gift or a trick.

In the old Northwest Indian tales, Nasawaylu, or Old Man Coyote, was the spirit that finished the world started by the Supreme Being. Nasawaylu sometimes bestowed gifts on those seeking guardian spirits. But he is also a trickster, and it's up to John to know the difference.

Schlesier is an anthropologist who has written widely about American Indians. In "Aurora" he imagines a life that might have been.