Best crime books for Christmas

It's a crying shame that one of the best crime books of the year is also the last from its author. The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets' Nest (translated by Reg Keeland; MacLehose, £18.99) is the final instalment of Stieg Larsson's captivating trilogy, starring the amoral but appealing Lisbeth Salander. Larsson's untimely death has left crime fiction fans without one of the genre's great new voices.

As one of the original queens of crime, Ngaio Marsh created classic detective stories that have stood the test of time. In Ngaio Marsh: Her Life in Crime (HarperCollins, £7.99), Joanne Drayton explores the life of woman who gave us the gentlemanly sleuth Roderick Alleyn and looks at how her talent as a director and her love of theatre shaped her writing. When it comes to much-loved detectives, John Rebus, now sadly retired, springs to mind. How to follow such a tough act? In The Complaints (Orion, £18.99) we're introduced to Malcolm Fox, a very different copper. For one thing he bangs up fellow policemen, and for another he's teetotal: an enjoyable first outing for Ian Rankin's new boy as he uncovers corruption while fighting for his career.

Historical events are the inspiration for two of this year's finest crime offerings. Berlin in the 1930s and post-war Cuba provide the backdrop to If the Dead Rise Not (Quercus, £17.99) by Philip Kerr, the latest in the hard-boiled Bernie Gunther series.

Meanwhile, America during the turbulent years of 1968 to 1972 gets given the James Ellroy treatment in Blood's a Rover (Century, £18.99), the final part of his Underworld USA blockbusting trilogy of fact and fiction. But it's the future that provides the backdrop to The Dying Light by Henry Porter (Orion, £12.99), in particular a Britain five years from now that's heading towards a police state with the help of a corrupt government at best ambivalent towards the concept of democracy.

Scandinavia's crime writing boom shows no sign of abating. Last year's well-deserved winner of the Swedish crime novel award, The Darkest Room by Johan Theorin (trans. Marlaine Delargy; Doubleday, £10.99), is a haunting tale set on a bleak island. Meanwhile, Iceland is gaining a glowing reputation for its thrillers, and the second book from Yrsa Sigurdardottir, My Soul to Take (trans. Bernard Scudder and Anna Yates; Hodder & Stoughton, £11.99), is funny as well as being a taut and accomplished novel set in an Icelandic spa resort that proves unhealthy – indeed, deadly - for some of its guests.

Readers' favourites Harlan Coben and John Connolly have both been on good form in 2009. Coben's Long Lost (Orion, £18.99) sees Myron Bolitar doing what he does best – helping a damsel in distress – as he heads to Paris on the hunt for a murderer. Connolly's Charlie Parker, however, has to do battle with adversaries from further afield – the depths of Hades – in The Lovers (Hodder & Stoughton, £17.99), which offers his usual intriguing blend of fast-paced crime fiction and fantasy.

As the year draws to a close, one book welcome in any crime fan's stocking is PD James's Talking about Detective Fiction The Bodleian Library, £12.99). This slim but elegant volume is devoted to explaining the history – and appeal – of the detective story and while Adam Dalgliesh makes an appearance, so too do Sherlock Holmes, Lord Peter Wimsey and Carol Jordan. This is a fascinating and beautifully written insight into the creative process – and the bookshelves – of this grande dame of murder.

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