Crime fiction can often resort to posturing or cliche, but this year several titles have stood out for their willingness to play with genre conventions.

Even a veteran like James Ellroy seems to be taking chances with the epic, stylish, accessible Perfidia (William Heineman, £20). A Japanese family is murdered hours before Pearl Harbour is bombed, and the subsequent tortured investigation is infused with a kind of insane genius.

No one expected anything new from long-deceased hardboiled author Dashiell Hammett in 2014, but the unseen and uncollected works in The Hunter And Other Stories (No Exit Press, £9.99) confirm him as one of the 20th century's most authentic voices. Even the incomplete excerpts feel more whole than many other writers' final drafts.

Perhaps more than its noir cousin, the traditional mystery needs to take chances in order to stand out from those who came before. Marco Malvair takes the subgenre to its absurd extremes in The Art Of Killing Well (Maclehose Press, £12.99), with a devilishly clever plot and an eccentric cast who are an absolute joy to spend time with. The amateur detective is Italy's first "celebrity" chef, and the talk of food is enough to make even the fullest of stomachs rumble.

Jean Tuelé's portrait of France's most infamous multiple murderer, The Poisoning Angel (Gallic Books, £8.99), will appeal to those with the darkest sense of humour. Hélène Jégado's quest to fulfil her self-perceived role as Death's helper is so bizarre it could only be influenced by reality.

The French contingent score again with Dominique Manotti's Escape (Arcadia, £10), a surprisingly affecting story inspired by Italy's "years of lead", focussing on political exiles in France. Deeply personal, it ultimately becomes the story of one man's well-intentioned lie and the unseen cost of telling it.

Immigration is also a theme in Eva Dolan's debut, The Long Way Home (Harvill Secker, £6.99), which introduces detectives Ferreira and Zigic. What could be a standard police procedural stands out for its excellent character work and the timely way it deals with hot-button political topics dominating the headlines.

Pushing hard at the boundaries of genre, daring us to classify it neatly, Lavie Tidhar's A Man Lies Dreaming (Hodder and Stoughton, £18.99) reimagines Adolf Hitler as a deposed dictator forced to work as a private investigator on the mean streets of 1930s London. But as the book progresses we realise that the man called Wolf only exists in the mind of a Jewish writer imprisoned in Auschwitz. It's bold, often brilliant, and avoids the pitfalls one might expect before crossing into the territory of speculative writers such as Philp K Dick.

Finally, screenwriter Dwayne Alexander Smith's Forty Acres (Faber and Faber, £16.99), begins more conservatively; a page-turning legal thriller, with a hotshot black lawyer recruited into a shadowy cabal. But it soon becomes one of the most unsettling mainstream crime novels of the year, shocking us with a twist that is at once marvellously melodramatic and still pointedly political.