Peter Swanson has garnered a loyal following of fans by writing unique stand-alones that defy expectations at almost every turn. The only things you can count on when picking up a Peter Swanson novel are that you will be thoroughly entertained, guided by a skilled hand, and likely to never forget the journey; everything else is up-for-grabs. Swanson refuses to write the same book twice, not even close. And chances are if you have an inkling of where is plot is going or what one of his novels is going to be “about,” you will almost definitely be wrong. Which brings us to his latest release, Eight Perfect Murders.
It is completely ironic that almost anything said about Eight Perfect Murders would constitute a spoiler, given that this novel is overflowing with spoilers for other crime novels, specifically those “eight perfect murders” that give the book its name. With that in mind, it is important to look at that list of books because readers picking up Eight Perfect Murders need to know that the plots and solutions of these books will be discussed in depth in Peter Swanson’s novel.
Back when he was simply an employee of the bookstore, Malcolm Kershaw wrote a blog post for the store’s website in which he chose eight books he thought detailed murders where the guilty party could successfully get away with the crime. The books he chose were: Agatha Christie’s The ABC Murders, Patricia Highsmith’s Strangers on a Train, Ira Levin’s Death Trap, A. A. Milne’s The 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.
Now, Malcolm is part-owner of the independent Old Devils Bookstore in Boston. One evening an FBI agent stops in the store asking about this long-ago list. It turns out that real-life murders are being committed using those books as a blueprint. Of course, Malcolm is a suspect and he must work with this female agent to vet other suspects before all eight murders occur. The list of possible culprits is vast: bookstore employees, customers who frequent Old Devils, friends of Malcolm and his dearly-departed wife, people from Malcolm’s mysterious past, or maybe even a complete stranger playing a vicious game.
Peter Swanson’s Eight Perfect Murders is a love-letter to the crime fiction genre. Even beyond those central novels of focus, there are countless mentions of other crime fiction works, luminaries in the field, and well-known incidents of lore. Both Bouchercon and the Edgar Awards get mentions within the context of the investigation. It is also a celebration of the indie bookstore community where hand-selling suggestions is an art unto itself. There is not another book that better documents the crime fiction fan’s experience with this genre. Then on top of that, throw in a compelling mystery with strong suspects, plenty of red herrings, and a satisfying conclusion and what you end up with is a fast and fun reading experience.
Sometimes you don’t need to reinvent the wheel to create something the public will enjoy. All it takes is a clever conceit, extensive knowledge of the genre (both past and present), and the talent to write in an addictive manner. It is just as easy as that! Or at least Peter Swanson’s Eight Perfect Murders makes it seem that effortless.
Disclaimer: A e-galley of this title was provided to BOLO Books by the publisher. No review was promised and the above is an unbiased review of the novel.