If it’s Christmas, it must be Pantomime season, which is excellent timing for the release of Smoke and Mirrors (Quercus, £16.99), the second in Elly Griffiths’ series featuring Detective Inspector Edgar Stephens and stage magician Max Mephisto.

When a pair of local children are murdered, Stephens finds himself looking to gruesome fairy tales for clues, while Max suspects that his turn as the villain in the local pantomime may yield something of importance to the investigation, and newly recruited Sergeant Emma Holmes is determined to prove her insight by solving the case with or without the help of her male colleagues. The 1950s setting is sharply realised with a convincing and captivating authenticity of attitude , and while the climax might not surprise a seasoned crime audience, the use of fairy-tale tropes and the dark reimagining of old Grimm Brothers tales that come from the mind of a 13-year-old girl may send a shiver or two down the spine.

The setting and theatrical background of Brighton distinguish a tale that doesn’t necessarily shock with its procedural plot, but instead relies on its empathetic cast, authentic period detail and nuanced depictions of the world of variety to keep readers turning those pages.

Anders De La Mott’s latest novel, MemoRandom (HarperCollins, £7.99) amps up the adrenaline from its opening pages as Police detective David Sarac awakens in a Stockholm hospital following a horrific car crash preceded by a stroke. His memory is fuzzy, but he knows that he has done something terrible while attempting to protect an informant. Meanwhile, Atif Mohammed Kassab returns to Sweden seeking the person he holds responsible for his younger brother’s death. Both men are connected by an undercover agent known only as Janus.

De La Mott’s swiftly paced thriller is a barrage of cross, double cross and even triple cross that threatens at times to overwhelm the reader. Luckily, the translation by Neil Smith is simple, direct and clear, if occasionally a little too formal. The inevitable build up to a bloody resolution is entertainingly structured, if perhaps a little over the top for some tastes. But it pleasingly goes against the grain of Scandi-crime’s gloomily meditative reputation.

A more realist tone is to be found in Adam Brookes’ Spy Games (Sphere, £18.99). Journalist Philip Mangan is in hiding from Chinese nationalists, who have identified him as British spy. But his old life is catching up with him, and his peripheral witnessing of a terrorist attack plunges him back into a world of intrigue and danger he thought he had left behind.

Brookes, a BBC correspondent, has clearly done his research, as evidenced by the confidence with which he presents his convincing world of international double crosses and political intrigue. This isn’t the no-holds-barred high-octane thriller that would-be Flemings lazily recycle, but a more nuanced and terrifying experience that will occasionally leave the reader’s head spinning as they attempt to connect all the dots. Comparisons to John Le Carre are inevitable, but may be justified; Spy Games is a convincingly mature book that demands its readers engage with the narrative. As with the master himself, you might not always be certain what just happened, but the real thrill is in the tense set pieces, the muscular prose and the occasionally comforting impressions that even some of the spies involved in this international conspiracy are sometimes as much in the dark as anyone else.

With a novel of this scale, it’s all too easy to rely on the crutch of recounting global history, but Brookes expertly hides necessary exposition in drama; he’s a natural storyteller, and a thrilling new voice, and Spy Games will make you want to seek out his debut, Night Heron.

Finally, The Lost Detective: Becoming Dashiell Hammett (Bloomsbury, £16.99) examines the early life of one of crime fiction’s most famous innovators. In recent years, a number of new books on Hammett and his life have emerged, meaning that this latest from Nathan Ward seems at first glance almost unnecessary. However, the focus on Hammett’s formative years as a real-life detective quickly distinguishes this biography from the pack, giving insight into the influential author that most biographies quickly brush over in favour of talking about the publication of The Maltese Falcon.

Hammett himself may be, in part, responsible for this dearth of material on his experiences as a private eye. He is slippery and contradictory about his work with the Pinkertons whether for reasons of self-aggrandisement or to protect colleagues and clients. But Ward scrutinises the evidence with the same diligence that a good operative, such as Hammett himself, would have shown, piecing together a narrative that describes how a man who showed no previous interest in writing became one of the most famous voices of American literature.

It’s the little details that intrigue, such as Hammett’s claim that his famous detective, The Continental Op, was based on the real-life “Jimmy Wright”. As Ward points out, a deeper examination shows that no one registered under that name was ever employed in a senior position by the Pinkerton Offices. However, it was often used as an alias by several detectives, giving more weight to a later claim by Hammett that the Op was a composite of “half a dozen men who might be he.”

With its sharp focus and strong hook, The Lost Detective is a fascinating read. Far from being superfluous, Ward’s accessible yet intelligent biography casts Hammett in a new and intriguing light.