An intriguing new mystery about a bookseller who finds himself at the centre of an FBI investigation…
Years ago, bookseller and mystery aficionado Malcolm Kershaw compiled a list of the genre’s most unsolvable murders, those that are almost impossible to crack — which he titled “Eight Perfect Murders” — chosen from among the best of the best including Agatha Christie’s A. B. C. Murders, Patricia Highsmith’s Strangers on a Train, Ira Levin’s Death Trap, A. A. Milne’s Red House Mystery, Anthony Berkeley Cox’s Malice Aforethought, James M. Cain’s Double Indemnity, John D. Macdonald’s The Drowner, and Donna Tartt’s A Secret History.
But no one is more surprised than Mal, now the owner of the Old Devils Bookstore in Boston, when an FBI agent comes knocking on his door one snowy day in February. She’s looking for information about a series of unsolved murders that look eerily similar to the killings on Mal’s old list. And the FBI agent isn’t the only one interested in this bookseller who spends almost every night at home reading. The killer is out there, watching his every move — a diabolical threat who knows way too much about Mal’s personal history, especially the secrets he’s never told anyone, even his recently deceased wife.
To protect himself, Mal begins looking into possible suspects… and sees a killer in everyone around him. But Mal doesn’t count on the investigation leaving a trail of death in its wake. Suddenly, a series of shocking twists leaves more victims dead — and the noose around Mal’s neck grows so tight he might never escape.
The synopsis for this caught my attention, and the publishers were kind enough to approve my request to review it (both the North American and UK publisher gave me access to DRCs). Strangely, given how interesting Swanson’s novels sound, this is the first of his that I’ve read. An engaging and gripping read, I zipped through this in just a couple of very enjoyable sittings.
In Eight Perfect Murders, Swanson channels a very clear love for the crime and mystery genres. The novel has multiple references to not only the eight books mentioned in the character’s blog post, but also reflections on the current and past state of the genres. Long-time readers of mysteries will find many great comments and asides. The novel also plays around with various tropes and common genre elements — unreliable narrators, changes in context, revisions of history, and red herrings.
Swanson’s characters are very well-drawn, and Mal is an interesting guide — not only of the story, but also his small slice of Boston, and the genres he loves (but has distanced himself from). Mal operates in a very narrow slice of Boston, not wandering far from his comfortable, safe routine. When he’s approached by the FBI, his cozy life starts to unravel as he dives back into the novels on his list, and starts to conduct his own amateur investigation into what’s really going on and what is his connection to the murders and killer.
Swanson’s writing is excellent, and the novel flows very well — it’s a quick read, but didn’t feel rushed. If you are looking for a great new read, one that will keep you guessing and hook you from very early on, then I would definitely recommend this novel. I very much enjoyed it, and I think Swanson is a must-read author. I’ll be catching up his previous novels very soon.
Peter Swanson’s Eight Perfect Murders is out now, published by William Morrow in North America and Faber in the UK (as Rules for Perfect Murders). At the time of writing, it is also on sale in the UK.
Also on CR: Interview with Peter Swanson (2018)