If you want to get away with murder, play by the rules
A series of unsolved murders with one thing in common: each of the deaths bears an eerie resemblance to the crimes depicted in classic mystery novels.
The deaths lead FBI Agent Gwen Mulvey to mystery bookshop Old Devils. Owner Malcolm Kershaw had once posted online an article titled ‘My Eight Favourite Murders,’ and there seems to be a deadly link between the deaths and his list – which includes Agatha Christie’s The ABC Murders, Patricia Highsmith’s Strangers on a Train and Donna Tartt’s The Secret History.
Can the killer be stopped before all eight of these perfect murders have been re-enacted?
Malcolm ‘Mal’ Kershaw works in a bookstore that specialises in mystery/thrillers. One day, an FBI agent walks in and asks Mal about a series of deaths and murders she’s investigating, and enquires if he knows anything about them. It doesn’t take long for the Agent to reveal to Malcolm that she believes a serial killer is killing people in particular ways to replicate certain works of fiction… works of fiction that Mal just happened to describe as “the perfect murders” in a blog post years before.
This is one of those books where it lands in the middle for me: I liked it, but didn’t love it.
Through the main character, who is a self-confessed mystery expert, Rules for Perfect Murders reads like an analysis of the most popular mysteries written, from Agatha Christie’s ‘And Then There Were None’ to Gillian Flynn’s ‘Gone Girl’. The combination of such past works of fiction and the own plot of Rules for Perfect Murders, were woven together really well, and is definitely a well done homage to the past mystery/thriller writers included, and the genre itself. I found the development and style of this story unique and rather interesting, because it felt layered with the inclusion of multiple mysteries, so I didn’t know what was coming next.
However, please be warned; Rules for Perfect Murders details the plots of a handful of books, especially how the stories end and their twists. So you might want to check them off your TBR before diving into this one. Plus, maybe that would make Rules for Perfect Murders all the more poignant.
The overarching mystery was well conceived and executed to be thoroughly enjoyable. It captured my interest pretty much from the instant I read it, because the opening chapter was also very exciting, and I was kept guessing until the end. And I quite liked the use of other beloved mystery authors works, as their inclusion was fun and nostalgic.
Unfortunately, the narrator – Malcolm – was monotonous, which hit the book’s flare in a few ways, in particular, I wasn’t really invested in the character to care about his ending.
This is actually one of the most disappointing things to have happened in my recents reads, because I was initially a fan of the character. His backstory was gripping due to his bookish nature and his personal tragedies. The decline in my appreciation of the character happened through superfluous details like Malcolm’s eating habits, his bland way of interacting with people, walking to and from places etc., over and over again. This also hindered the book’s rather slow pace further. Although, I must praise Swanson for capturing Mal’s character as an awkward introvert, but it was just done a little too well to become ineffective in a positive way.
So, with the lack of investment and slow pace, I personally found the book to be a little anticlimactic despite the mystery being immensely enjoyable. The book’s ending fell flat because I didn’t care how it ended, and there wasn’t much action with the big reveal. It lacked suspense – it didn’t feel like my typical thriller where I suspect everybody of being up to no good.
The only other way I can explain why this isn’t a book I’m 100% shouting home about is because of so many other mysteries/thrillers I’ve enjoyed far more, which lets me know that there was something missing with this book. And I think that ‘something’ was the lack of a character to be invested in/root for. On the other hand, I really did love the story and the narration style. I’ll still pick up whatever Peter Swanson writes next, because he is a good writer.
Thank you kindly to Faber & Faber for providing me with a review copy via Amazon Vine in exchange for an honest review. 📚🔪
Rules for Perfect Murders by Peter Swanson
*published as ‘Eight Perfect Murders’ in the US.
Published March 2020