Faber & Faber | 288p | 2020 (5 March) | Review copy | Buy the book
Malcolm Kershaw runs The Old Devil’s Bookstore in Boston, the perfect place to find a first edition of a classic murder mystery. Years before, Kershaw wrote a blog post called ‘Eight Perfect Murders’, which listed some of the most infamous murders in crime fiction, and it is this list that now brings FBI Special Agent Gwen Mulvey to his door one snowy winter’s day. Mulvey is investigating a series of deaths, which to most would appear completely unrelated and perhaps not all even suspicious, except if one happened to be a crime fiction fan and had read Kershaw’s list. The deaths appear to follow a pattern and that pattern is the list. Mulvey needs Kershaw to help her find a murderer, someone who may well know Kershaw and is now sending him a message. To solve this crime, and to prevent other murders, Mulvey and Kershaw must think like some of the greatest writers of crime fiction.
Rules for Perfect Murders has the most fantastic premise and I read it the moment I could. I adored the two other Peter Swanson novels I’ve read, The Kind Worth Killing and Her Every Fear and so I knew that if there was any author who could deliver on such a good premise it would be this one. I was right! Rules for Perfect Murders is a completely addictive, clever and ridiculously twisty tale of murder and mystery, which also manages to have fun playing homage to some much loved novels by Agatha Christie, Donna Tartt and Patricia Highsmith, among others.
Peter Swanson plays some clever games with the genre and its popular devices, such as the unreliable narrator and the snowy setting. It is Mal Kershaw who tells the story to us and it is fascinating watching out for red herrings or genuine clues. This is one of those books that might well reward a second reading. But we also get to know Gwen Mulvey and she is equally interesting and intriguing. The author might be playing games with the genre, but he is also playing them with his characters and with us. The book is so pleasing in more ways than I can say.
It is worth mentioning, I think, that the nature of the story means that it is full of spoilers for some classic novels and so you might want to bear that in mind when you read it. I’d read the books in question and so I enjoyed tracing their clues through the book and I think it’s possible that the book works most well for fans of classic crime fiction. But, even if you’ve never read any of the books referred to here, you would still enjoy Rules for Perfect Murders. I absolutely loved the bookshop setting and, as someone who loves Boston, the location is also a big draw.
Rules for Perfect Murders is a clever and very well written murder mystery and brain teaser that would appeal to anyone who enjoys crime fiction, bookshops and wintry tales of murder. It’s a fast read and it is an entirely satisfying and rewarding one, successful on so many different levels. I cannot wait to read more books by Peter Swanson.
Her Every Fear