Christmas 2015: The 8 best crime books

Here are some of 2015's finest books to fire the imagination, engage the grey matter and invigorate the spirit over the festive period

Publishing's crime title buzzword for 2015? No question: it was the much-employed "Girl" (thanks to the success of Gillian Flynn's Gone Girl). We had The Girl Who Wasn't There by Ferdinand von Schirach (Little, Brown, £8.99), in which the focus is actually on the psychopathic anti-hero Sebastian, who moves from disturbed child to a celebrated artist (and killer). It's a slim, elegant book, icily disturbing in Anthea Bell's translation, with the perspective shifting from its murderous protagonist to the professionals involved in a rivetingly described court case.

Another girl? How about Peter Swanson's The Girl with a Clock for a Heart (2014), which broke big for its tyro author? His follow-up, The Kind Worth Killing (Faber, £14.99), created less of a stir, but was exemplary fare; that book channels Strangers on a Train to forge something piquant and fresh. Swanson's protagonist Ted strikes up a relationship with a woman he meets at a London airport, and the two come up with something similar to Hitchcock and Highsmith's murder swap – with similarly messy consequences.

In Camille (Quercus, £8.99, trans. Frank Wynne) by Pierre Lemaitre, the author's height-challenged French copper Verhoeven is back, still forced by his bloody-minded nature to prove himself superior to the taller individuals around him. Lemaitre's remarkable Alex had an incendiary effect on international crime fiction, and Camille is quite as caustic and ambitious.

From France to the US, and Pleasantville (Serpent's Tail, £14.99) by Attica Locke. It's 1996. In Houston, a mayoral election hinges on the African-American neighbourhood of Pleasantville. The nomination of ex-police chief Axel Hathorne is assured, but his nephew is charged with murder, and Jay Porter has the poisoned chalice of mounting a defence. Explosive political issues infuse the expertly orchestrated suspense.

Icelander Ragnar Jónasson's first novel in the UK is Snowblind (Orenda, £8.99, trans. Quentin Bates), drawing inspiration from both the Scandinavian tradition and the classic English crime novel. His subject is the corruption that stretches to the upper echelons of Icelandic politics.

Readers should be grateful that Michael Robotham no longer ghostwrites for such celebrities as Geri Halliwell (and, more retrospectively embarrassing, Rolf Harris), as Robotham's nonpareil novels – such as the CWA Dagger-winning Life or Death (Sphere, £7.99) – utilise his skills to much greater effect. An armed robbery leaves millions of dollars unaccounted for. Audie Palmer, sentenced to 10 years, finds prison the least of his problems.

A melancholy welcome for Dark Corners (Hutchinson, £18.99), the final novel by the late Ruth Rendell. The author was such a fixture of British crime fiction (and one of the most accomplished writers in the genre) that her absence is keenly felt. But we do have this mesmeric book. Carl Martin's ill-considered actions lead to a friend's death, blackmail and, ultimately, murder. It's a felicitous last hurrah for Rendell.

Finally, a biography. The life of one of the great golden age crime writers is granted a forensic examination in Josephine Tey (Sandstone, £19.99) by Jennifer Morag Henderson, who has an unusual take on Tey's much-disputed sexuality.

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