Book review: Rules For Perfect Murders by Peter Swanson

I was instantly attracted to this story of a bookseller who gets drawn into an FBI investigation because of the books he’s read.

A series of unsolved murders appear to have one thing in common: each bears a resemblance to one of those depicted in the classic crime mysteries listed in Malcolm Kershaw’s blog post about eight fictional perfect murders.

Malcolm who runs the Old Devils book shop is visited by an FBI agent who brings the murders to his attention and asks for his help in solving them.

Although at this stage I was thinking this was all a bit hard to believe, I also decided that I didn’t care! For someone like me who loves making lists and reading crime stories this was a perfect read.

It also had the added bonus of enabling me to revisit some of my favourite crime stories and discover new ones:

The Red House Mystery by AA Milne; Malice Aforethought by Anthony Berkeley Cox; The ABC Murders by Agatha Christie; Double Indemnity by James M Cain; Strangers On A Train by Patricia Highsmith;, The Drowner by John D Macdonald, Deathtrap by Ira Levin (a play); and The Secret History by Donna Tartt.

Each plot is dissected to show the genius of the murder plan. (If you haven’t read these stories but are planning to you might want to read them first to avoid spoilers.)

Unassuming, bookish Mal is a fascinating narrator: “I’ve never been good at making friends. Sometimes I blame it on the fact that I was an only child.”

We soon learn he’s not as straightforward as he seems and he has secrets in his past that the killer knows about. Is he of interest to the agent as an expert or a suspect or both?

In Mal’s own words “I don’t trust narrators any more than I trust actual people in my life. We never get the whole truth, not from anybody.”

In some ways I found this story as bizarre, flawed and implausible as the characters inside – but also absolutely brilliant and I couldn’t stop reading.

Would I recommend it? Without hesitation! This is a fiendishly good read for lovers of classic crime fiction and a refreshing change from gory thrillers. I’d happily read it again.

My thanks to Faber & Faber and NetGalley for a review copy of this book.

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