Welcome to the season of murder and mayhem

Crime remains a thriving genre in the publishing world and, now that the season of goodwill is out of the way, welcome to the season of murder and mayhem. Whatever place or time you re after, there s bound to be some bounder with evil intent and a wicked

Crime remains a thriving genre in the publishing world and, now that the season of goodwill is out of the way, welcome to the season of murder and mayhem. Whatever place or time you're after, there's bound to be some bounder with evil intent and a wicked glint out to ruin someone's day. Here, David Crozier performs a literary post-mortem on some of the current crop of nefarious ne'erdowells

THE hardest part about crime fiction is deciding where to start. It's a genre that covers so much ground. I'm sure more than one person has gone up to the crime section in their local bookstore only to give up and go home with a nice comforting Agatha Christie.

And while Agatha had her moments (she is, after all, the most popular novelist in history with more than two BILLION - and rising - copies of her books sold worldwide) there's plenty more out there to enjoy.

James McGee, whose last novel Ratcatcher proved a worthy bestseller, has just published the follow-up Resurrectionist

(HarperCollins, £10).

The books, set in Regency London, feature soldier, spy

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and tough peacekeeper Matthew Hawkwood and this latest adventure grips literally from the first page.

Bow Street Runner Hawkwood has his work cut out when a horribly mutilated corpse is left in a cemetery nailed to a tree, a warning from the body snatchers not to disrupt what, to them, is a very lucrative business.

It seems there are several rival gangs of graverobbers out there and his investigation will lead Hawkwood into some particularly grimy places.

It's a gripping read and, priced at just a tenner (even less online) is well worth dipping into.

McGee might only be on his second book - but Scott Turow's latest, Limitations (Picador, £16.99), is his eighth and a return to the vivid fictional creation of Kindle County.

First published last year as a serial in the New York Times, this is an expanded version and tells of judge George Mason who, presiding over a particularly disturbing rape case, begins to doubt the very nature of the law and, indeed, his role within it. Thought-provoking, it's a courtroom thriller far deeper

than most.

The Da Vinci Code continues to dominate not only the bestseller lists but also the ideas of new authors. Michael Byrnes' debut novel, The Sacred Bones (Simon&Schuster, £11.99), certainly tries to tap into that market. But, unlike many similar attempts, it's actually rather good.

An ancient artefact has been stolen from beneath Temple Mount in Jerusalem. With 13 Israeli soldiers killed and the Palestinians outraged over the desecration of the sacred ground, tensions are running high.

Meanwhile, in Vatican City, an American scientist and an Italian anthropologist have been secretly summoned to analyse a mysterious artefact - a human skeleton about 2,000 years old and bearing the unmistakable marks of crucifixion...

A pacy read with plenty of surprises, it's as daft as you might expect - and none the worse for that.

What with Colin Dexter and contemporaries like Veronica Stallwood, you might be forgiven for thinking there'd be no-one left in Oxford to murder. But apparently there are at least a few because here comes PI Sam Falconer, creation of Victoria Blake, in her third novel Skin and Blister (Orion, £10.99).

Unsurprisingly, Blake was born in Oxford and read history at Lady Margaret Hall, so she knows the area well (which shows). But wasn't Dorothy L Sayers doing threatening letters and disturbing gifts at Oxford colleges 70 years ago? Still... Blake has a cat called Dashiell Hammett so she can't be all bad.

A rather more original setting for a crime mystery can be

found in Martin O'Brien's superb Jacquot And The Master (Headline, £19.99)

Set in Provence, the ex-rugby playing Chief Inspector Daniel Jacquot is called to an artist's retreat at a hilltop hotel where it seems a young woman has been murdered. There are bloodstains, but no body.

The mystery deepens when it transpires there are plenty of people in the hotel who might have a reason for murder - and then not one but two bodies

are found.

Moving back to Victorian London, Lee Jackson's previous books, particularly A Metropolitan Murder, were excellent. Now he's back as LM Jackson for the first in a new series of books - A Most Dangerous Woman (Heinemann, £14.99).

Mysterious coffee shop owner Sarah Tanner witnesses the brutal murder of an old friend and, unable to turn to the police, finds herself drawn into the murky underbelly of Victorian London.

Assisted by unlikely friends, she must unravel a web of treachery and deceit that takes her from the gaming hells of Regent Street to the suburban heights of Upper Holloway.

Vivid and impressively authentic, the book isn't out until April but is well worth waiting for. Jackson's previous book - the third in his Inspector Webb series (The Last Pleasure Garden) - is out now in paperback (Arrow, £7.99).

Sticking with new paperbacks, the thrilling debut from a new female crime writer is out this month. Officer Down by Theresa Schwegel (Quercus, £6.99) won the 2006 Edgar award for best first novel and tells of Samantha Mack, a Chicago cop with a drink problem, a married lover and blood on her hands.

According to the police department, she's just shot and killed a fellow officer. Thing is, she didn't. And she knows she didn't. But can she prove it - and find out who did?

A rather more familiar female crime writer has her latest book published in paperback later this month. Val McDermid's The Grave Tattoo (Harper, £6.99) is set in the Lake District where rumours had been doing the rounds for generations that Fletcher Christian did not finish his life on Pitcairn with the rest of the Bounty mutineers.

Local legend had it that he found his way back home and was helped by his boyhood friend William Wordsworth, he of the daffodil fascination.

It is only when a long-buried body turns up in the picturesque landscape that the Wordsworth scholar Jane Gresham decides to investigate what until then seemed mere local gossip.

McDermid - well known for writing the TV series Wire In The Blood - gives us a mystery where events of more than 200 years ago have modern murderous repercussions

From the Lake District to the Peak District and the latest in Stephen Booth's excellent series featuring Derbyshire detectives Ben Cooper and Diane Fry.

Scared To Live (HarperCollins, £6.99) is a dark psychological thriller in which a seemingly harmless middle-aged woman is assassinated in the night, shot three times through an open window. But can she really be as innocent as she seems?

Then a woman and her two children are killed in a house fire and a link discovered between the two cases.

Each of Booth's novels seems to outdo the previous one and he's already building up an impressive back catalogue of immensely readable thrillers.

Sadly, although this is available now, the next in the series won't be published in hardback until the autumn.

Mary Higgins Clark also has a long history with more than 20 worldwide bestselling works of fiction under her proverbial belt.

The latest is Two Little Girls In Blue (Pocket, £6.99), which weaves the mysteries of telepathy into the story of a mother's search for a kidnapped child.

And if you're one of the many who read that one in hardback (it was a top 10 bestseller), try The Murder Bird by Joanna Hines (Simon&Schuster, £6.99) which opens with the sentence: "Five weeks before Kirsten Waller's body was found in a clifftop cottage in Cornwall, Grace Hobden cleared away the lunch, checked to make sure her three children were playing on the climbing frame at the bottom of the garden, then went indoors to murder her husband."

And how can anyone resist an opening like that?