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 Bookshop 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.
“Do you want to tell me why you’re questioning me?”
She unzipped her leather bag and removed a single sheet of paper. “Do you remember a list you wrote for this store’s blog, back in 2004? A list called ‘Eight Perfect Murders’?”
As an avid reader of anything that Peter Swanson writes, I couldn’t wait to crack open Eight Perfect Murders. My first love affair with the written word outside of adolescence was with many of the books included on this perfect murders list, including Agatha Christie, Patricia Highsmith, James M. Cain, etc. I’m an only child and an old soul, so most of my years growing up included black and white Alfred Hitchcock movies and books that were written before my parents were born, so you can see why I had such high expectations for this story going in. Overall, I did enjoy Eight Perfect Murders, and I think it will be a smashing hit in the book community.
Our story begins with an introduction to Malcolm Kershaw, and we quickly learn how he became a bookseller and why he’s drawn into the FBI’s investigation of a series of murders that look alarmingly similar to those in popular mystery novels. Malcolm has penned a list of what he considers to be eight of the most flawless murders carried out in suspenseful fiction, and the agent who interviews him believes the killer is drawing from Kershaw’s exact list. Our protagonist isn’t certain how he can help, other than to discuss in detail these murders with Agent Gwen Mulvey, but he decides being cooperative is a better way to keep the FBI at bay. If you’ve read anything by Swanson, then you know that his protagonists always have a secret or two that they are hiding, and it’s the reader’s job to figure out how big or small those secrets may be.
Obviously I’m not here to spoil the plot for you or tell you how it all wraps up, but I will say that this one has a slightly different feel to it than the author’s previous novels. While my favorite aspect of the story was the inclusion of these books that I am so fond of, it also felt like the in depth discussion into these novels halted the flow and pacing of the story at hand. It’s also worth noting that, if you haven’t read any of the books listed in Malcolm’s blog post and are wanting to read them for yourself, you may want to pick those up before starting this one. This isn’t a slight against the author; he respectfully chose older books that a large portion of the fiction reading population have already devoured, but there are many spoilers throughout this book for the stories in the list. Aside from this, I thought the final 70% was well done and found myself glued to the book. Swanson pulls his trademark twists and turns, which is always a pleasant experience. If you’re looking for a relatively short read full of mysterious nostalgia, put this one on your TBR for March!
*Many thanks to the publisher for providing my review copy.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Peter Swanson is the author of six novels including The Kind Worth Killing, winner of the New England Society Book Award, and finalist for the CWA Ian Fleming Steel Dagger, Her Every Fear, an NPR book of the year, and his most recent thriller, Eight Perfect Murders. His books have been translated into 30 languages, and his stories, poetry, and features have appeared in Asimov’s Science Fiction, The Atlantic Monthly, Measure, The Guardian, The Strand Magazine, and Yankee Magazine.
A graduate of Trinity College, the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, and Emerson College, he lives in Somerville, Massachusetts with his wife and cat.