4.5 star, adult

Review: Eight Perfect Murders by Peter Swanson

A chilling tale of psychological suspense and an homage to the thriller genre tailor-made for fans: the story of a bookseller who finds himself at the center of an FBI investigation because a very clever killer has started using his list of fiction’s most ingenious murders.

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.

As promised, here’s the next Peter Swanson. Again, a great premise, and considering it’s a pretty quick read, I just had to know what happened in the end. I was not prepared for the whirlwind of surprises. I expected some of them yes, but so many of them I also didn’t, so again, I really enjoyed the experience. Stay tuned to find out a few more of the details!

Eight Perfect Murders revolves around our protagonist, Malcolm Kershaw, who is a lover of mystery books; or at least, he once was. Plagued by a recurring dreams and a rather subdued life as a bookstore manager, his life is suddenly uprooted when an FBI agent comes to his door. A series of murders seems to have been committed in a fashion similar to a blogpost he once wrote, about the “Eight Perfect Murders.” Who is behind this series of murders? And will the killer get to Mal before he can figure out who it is?

The characters in this book were overall pretty good. Most were unique and interesting and it created a colourful cast of characters. The main character is deeply troubled, and as a result, untrusting. There are plenty of characters to be suspicious about, but the FBI agent Gwen and Malcolm eventually come up with a pseudonym for this killer that they chase. The story takes place in first person and really does mostly revolve around Mal, even though many people are killed, and the people around him are not that many. It is really a story of the development and exploration of Mal’s character, and if you are into books that slowly reveal the truth of the matter, this is likely one for you.

Malcolm’s love of mystery books really shows in the books, and so many old titles are raised and explored in this book (though slight spoiler alerts here and there). The use of all the themes from these kinds of books were quite well done. Some were more subtle than others and I think I appreciated those the most. However, the obvious homage to some of the classics were also good, albeit maybe a bit obvious. I really enjoyed almost all of the plot devices that were used and how they were executed; it made for an interesting story and I was surprised how much kind of esoteric commentary about mystery books could be present in a mystery book itself.

The mystery itself was pretty good. Considering the fairly daunting title, I was expecting some masterfully crafted murders. The murders are rather more sound in theory, but not necessarily in practice (requires very specific scenarios and set ups). However, luckily the story really doesn’t revolve around a “how-to” commit eight perfect murders. But someone is indeed copying out murders from the list that Mal made, which begs the question: why? And also, who? Some of the deaths seem connected to Mal too, so it’s unclear why the murderer is also targeting him and pointing clues to him. The story is full of twists and turns and reveal after reveal. Some of them were fairly obvious in my opinion, probably to any seasoned mystery reader. However, others I felt were pretty surprising, and played on the tropes I was already expecting, which really made it a bigger surprise.

The ending was pretty satisfying. In hindsight, I suppose it was fairly predictable, but at the same time with the way the author effectively created doubt in the book, I felt that it was really good. I want to admire how the whole story was crafted, but also how it was told to make it seem that way. And then finally, even looking at it in perfect hindsight and clarity, I see a lot of themes that tie in nicely at the end and appreciated it. This is one of the first times I’ve felt that the ending was truly satisfactory considering the build-up and my expectations, so major kudos to the author for that one!

Overall Recommendations

Eight Perfect Murders revolves around our resident mystery book lover, Malcom Kershaw. Having written a list of the eight perfect murders in literature, imagine his surprise when an FBI agent comes knocking, saying someone is completing murders based on the list? Soon it becomes clear this is more than a mere copycat, and the Malcolm is somehow being pointed to or targeted – but why? Full of intrigue, twists and turns, and plenty of (age-old) mystery novel references (some spoilers!), if you love a good first-person thriller/mystery vibe with the slow unraveling of the truth, this is certainly the one for you!

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