Rules for Perfect Murders by Peter Swanson

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Rules for Perfect Murders by Peter Swanson

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Category: Crime
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: Sue Magee
Reviewed by Sue Magee
Summary: Presented as a 'memoir', but with an unreliable narrator, it's a twisty tale with a nod to some of the giants of crime fiction. Beware though of spoilers for books you might not yet have read.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 288/8h20m Date: March 2020
Publisher: Faber & Faber
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 978-0571342358

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Malcolm Kershaw was the co-owner and manager of the Old Devils Bookstore on Beacon Hill in Boston. The store specialises in crime novels, but Mal has given up reading crime. His life's been pretty chaotic of late: It's five years since his wife, Claire Mallory, died and he's never really got over it. She was driving whilst inebriated, having just been to see the man with whom Kershaw suspected she was having an affair. His interest in crime fiction comes back when he's approached by Special Agent Gwen Mulvey. She's interested in a blog post he wrote a few years ago: My Eight Perfect Murders.

Her interest had been piqued after the murders of Robin Callahan (notorious news anchor), Jay Bradshaw and Ethan Byrd. There's a bird connection in each of the names and this made her think about Agatha Christie's The ABC Murders. A closer examination of the list brings up other unsolved murders which probably have a connection to books on the list, particularly Patricia Highsmith's Strangers on a Train and The Secret History by Donna Tartt. Is someone using the list as a template, or is there another link to Malcolm Kershaw? Can the killer be stopped before the list is completed?

When I picked this book up I thought that it would be a light-hearted look at various crimes and how they might compare to their fictional equivalents. Surely a story based on this list would be just too contorted? Well, I was wrong on both counts. This isn't light-hearted with the occasional nod to some of the greats of crime fiction - and it's definitely not too contorted.

Malcolm Kershaw makes for a superb lead character. He's introverted and inclined to over-think his relationships with other people. He's also an unreliable narrator: it takes him a long time to tell anyone - even himself - the full truth of what has been happening. There's a neat contrast with special agent Mulvey - who's also hiding her own secrets.

The plot is decidedly twisty and towards the end, you're going to going to have to pay close attention or you'll get lost. I didn't spot whodunnit, despite the fact that all the clues were there.

I have to give a warning about spoilers. The plot makes it impossible not to discuss whodunnit in each of the eight books and you might be better checking these books and Agatha Christie's The Murder of Robert Ackroyd if you're not keen on reading crime novels in the knowledge of the twist that comes at the end. If you've already read them you'll enjoy the trip down memory lane - and you might even be tempted into some rereading.

I'd like to thank the publishers for letting Bookbag see a review copy.

For another crime novel with a bookshop setting, you might like to try A Body in the Bookshop (Kitt Hartley Yorkshire Mysteries) by Helen Cox - although this one is cosy crime.

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