RULES FOR PERFECT MURDERS By Peter Swanson (Faber & Faber)
Peter Swanson’s Rules For Perfect Murders (Eight Perfect Murders in the US) is a clever, twisty crime novel that is also a homage to crime writing.
Some years ago Boston mystery bookshop owner Malcolm Kershaw posted online a list of ‘Eight Perfect Murders’. Fictional murders that were so clever and foolproof, that the perpetrators deserved to get away with them. Included on the list were some of the classics of the genre including Agatha Christie’s The ABC Murders, Patricia Highsmith’s Strangers On A Train and The Red House Mystery by A. A. Milne.
Kershaw has not thought about the list for several years, until FBI agent Gwen Mulvey knocks on his door and starts asking about the list and its connection to some recent murders in the Boston area. It would seem that someone is using the list to commit their own perfect murders. Kershaw is a little skeptical at first, but when he realises that one of the victims is someone that he marginally knows he becomes more concerned. He enthusiastically joins Agent Mulvey in the search for killer, especially since he has his own secrets that he wants to stop from coming out.
Rules For Perfect Murders is a clever mixture of murder mystery and serial killer thriller told through the eyes of a very unreliable narrator. The story moves along at a good pace, helped by Kershaw’s engaging voice and a steady succession of twists and surprises. There are frequent interesting discourses on crime fiction and regular readers of the genre will enjoy Kershaw’s observations, even if they do not agree with his list of perfect murders.
There are plenty of reflections on the present state of crime fiction and bookselling, and Swanson does a lot of name dropping of authors and events, such as the annual Bouchercon convention. He also shows a wry sense humour in some his comments on crime reading, especially this reflection on the effects of being an avid reader as an adolescent:
“I truly imagined that my adult existence would be far more booklike than it turned out to be. I thought, for example, that there would be several moments in which I got into a cab to follow someone. I thought I’d attend far more readings of someone’s will, and that I’d need to know how to pick a lock, … I thought train rides would inevitably involve a murder, that sinister occurrences would plague wedding weekends, and that old friends would constantly be getting in touch to ask for help, to tell me that their lives were in danger.”
A warning however, in discussing the books on the list, and other crime novels, Kershaw does go into a lot of detail about the plot and the outcomes. So if you do not want to know the solution to Christie’s The Murder of Roger Ackroyd or how John D. MacDonald’s The Drowner plays out, I would give this book a miss until you have read some of the old classics.
Rules For Perfect Murder fades a little towards the end, but overall it is a well plotted, witty and very enjoyable crime novel in which everyone has a secret, including the cat!
Four stars out of five!
Rules For Perfect Murder was released in Australia and the United Kingdom on 5 March 2020 and in the United States on 3 March as Eight Perfect Murders.
Thanks to Allen & Unwin and the Canberra Weekly for an advanced copy of the book.