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Eight Perfect Murders


Eight Perfect Murders

EIGHT PERFECT MURDERS is arguably the ultimate love letter to the mystery genre, its authors and readers, and independent booksellers. Peter Swanson has presented us with the literary equivalent of a brainworm. Once you encounter it, you will not be able to get it out of your head.

The book is narrated by Malcolm Kershaw, the owner and operator of Boston’s Old Devils Bookstore. Malcolm is quite well known among mystery aficionados for his knowledge, inventory and occasional author appearance and signing events that he hosts on the premises. This benevolent notoriety is further sustained by a blog post that he wrote several years ago while employed at another establishment. The piece was titled “Eight Perfect Murders” and listed eight mystery novels --- actually, as Malcolm notes, seven novels and one play --- that present the genre’s most unsolvable killings. He is used to people coming into the store to discuss the list or to buy a copy of one of the books that made the grade.

"EIGHT PERFECT MURDERS is pretty much perfect itself. There are plenty of twists and turns, and secrets galore."

Malcolm is still surprised, though, when an FBI agent named Gwen Mulvey comes knocking on his door on a cold and very snowy February morning. She is investigating a series of unsolved murders that appear to be modeled after those presented in the books on Malcolm’s list. Initially he isn’t convinced. He’s an independent bookseller whose life, after the death of his wife, consists of living frugally and quietly while reading from his own collection of mystery novels in the evening before getting up in the morning and doing it all again. His life is basically one of lather, rinse and repeat. He soon discovers, though, that someone is watching him and appears to be using his long-ago blog post as a sort of bucket list in reverse. Whoever is doing it is not a stranger, either. He or she seems to know far too much about Malcolm and particular aspects of his life that no one, including his late wife, ever knew about.

Malcolm sets off to do some amateur sleuthing himself to discover the killer’s identity, in the same manner as the characters in the books with which he has surrounded himself for all these years. But as he does this, the culprit is not idle. Additional murders occur so that it becomes more important than ever for Malcolm to find who is using the list for his or her own benefit, even as he reveals a few of his own secrets along the way.

EIGHT PERFECT MURDERS is pretty much perfect itself. There are plenty of twists and turns, and secrets galore. That list of great mysteries that Swanson presents to his readers through Malcolm serves as an excellent starting point for anyone who wants to jump into mystery fiction while pointing fans of the genre in the direction of a book or two that we may have missed. For that, we owe Swanson a debt of gratitude (and, if you run into him somewhere, a glass of his favorite beverage). You also owe it to yourself to read EIGHT PERFECT MURDERS.

Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on March 6, 2020

Eight Perfect Murders
by Peter Swanson