Widower Malcolm Kershaw manages a book store in Boston. One snowy morning he is contacted by an FBI agent, Gwen Mulvey, who wants to talk to him about a blog post he wrote years before, where he detailed his favourite eight perfect murders from fiction. These were The Red House Mystery by A A Milne, Malice Aforethought by Anthony Berkley 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, and The Secret History by Donna Tartt. Now it looks like someone is committing murders in a way that imitates the deaths in these stories. What follows is a cat and mouse game of murder, suspects, and twists as several of the characters tries to outmanoeuvre one another, with murderous consequences.
I’ve always been a sucker for stories featuring real writers or novels, and this book was right up my street. Swanson is one of my favourite contemporary authors, who acknowledges the history of the thriller genre, but at the same time adding something new to it. I’ve read all of his books – and heartily recommend them – and whilst it’s true that none of them quite reach the excellence of The Kind Worth Killing, the rest are still better than most suspense books being published currently.
There’s an element of meta-fiction to Rules For Perfect Murders, being a mystery novel that was written specifically referencing other mystery novels – and all that comes with that. Swanson has great fun riffing off plot-points made in the aforementioned titles. It’s obvious he has a huge affection for the genre, and what’s great about this novel is how much fun it is to read. The pages just zip by. It’s so accessible. There’s a wonderful pace to the proceedings, and several clever twists along the way, to keep the plot fresh and intriguing. If I had to be critical, there’s one chapter towards the end that feels slightly clunky in its heavy use of exposition; however that is itself is acknowledged by Swanson when he references a similar chapter in another famous mystery novel, so I’d say he 100% manages to pull it off.
If you haven’t read any books by Peter Swanson before, I’d say this one was a great one to start with. He’s one of those writers whom I find myself recommending to anyone who likes reading thrilling, suspenseful, page-turning mysteries. Highly recommended.