Rules for Perfect Murders by Peter Swanson: contemporary whodunnit with a magical, murderous twist - book review -

Rules For Perfect Murders
Rules For Perfect Murders

When book shop owner Mal Kershaw wrote a blog listing his eight perfect crime fiction murders, he little suspected it would become the template for a real-life serial killer.

When book shop owner Mal Kershaw wrote a blog listing his eight perfect crime fiction murders, he little suspected it would become the template for a real-life serial killer.

Fans of classic murder mysteries will be in seventh heaven as American master of the psychological thriller, Peter Swanson, serves up a feast of literary fun and fiendishly clever conundrums in his gripping and hugely entertaining new novel.

Best known for spine-tingling page-turners like The Girl with a Clock for a Heart, The Kind Worth Killing and All the Beautiful Lies, Swanson turns his sharp eye and prodigious imagination to the Golden Age of crime writing in this contemporary whodunnit with a magical, murderous twist.

Expect a nostalgic roll-out of fiction’s most ingenious murders, a loaded pistol full of dark, dangerous secrets, an unpredictable storyline, and an atmosphere as tense and as taut as a coiled spring.

Years ago, Mal Kershaw, mystery aficionado and now owner of the Old Devils Bookstore in Boston, compiled an online list of his favourite and most unsolvable Golden Age murders – killings that seem almost impossible to crack – and titled them Eight Perfect Murders.

His best of the best included Agatha Christie’s ABC Murders, Patricia Highsmith’s Strangers on a Train, A. A. Milne’s Red House Mystery, Anthony Berkeley Cox’s Malice Aforethought, James M. Cain’s Double Indemnity, and Donna Tartt’s A Secret History.

But no one is more surprised than Mal when FBI agent Gwen Mulvey comes knocking on his door one snowy day in February, looking for information about a series of unsolved murders that look eerily similar to the killings on Mal’s old list.

Mal still specialises in mystery books but, if truth be known, he has lost interest in them now. However, the FBI agent isn’t the only one interested in this bookseller who spends almost every night at home reading, and is haunted by a dream that people are ‘coming after’ him.

There is killer is out there, watching his every move, someone who knows way too much about Mal’s personal history, especially the secrets he has 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.

Swanson’s own love and knowledge of the works of legendary crime writers shines through in this gripping, mind-bending gem of a read for all crime mystery fans.

Mal proves to be an intriguing narrator… his own story is as full of glaring gaps and unreliable evidence as the investigation into the series of murders which is taking place around him.

There are thrills, chills, brilliant twists, and puzzles to fathom as hidden truths emerge and readers try desperately to second and third guess what, why and, of course, whodunnit.

Rules for Perfect Murders is a triumphant gear change for this exciting author... superbly imagined, cleverly plotted, and perfectly executed, it’s a fascinating and fabulous feast of literary conundrums.

The ideal gift for any new crime fiction fan, and a chance for all seasoned addicts to revisit some of their tried, trusted and much-loved favourites...

(Faber & Faber, hardback, £12.99)