Friday, January 28, 2022

Peter Swanson - Eight Perfect Murders

Years ago, bookseller and mystery aficionado Malcolm Kershaw compiled a list of the genre’s most unsolvable murders, those that are almost impossible to crack—which he titled “Eight Perfect Murders”—chosen from among the best of the best including Agatha Christie’s A. B. C. Murders, Patricia Highsmith’s Strangers on a Train, Ira Levin’s Death Trap, A. A. Milne's Red House Mystery, Anthony Berkeley Cox's Malice Aforethought, James M. Cain's Double Indemnity, John D. Macdonald's The Drowner, and Donna Tartt's A Secret History.
But no one is more surprised than Mal, now the owner of the Old Devils Bookstore in Boston, when an FBI agent comes knocking on his door one snowy day in February. She’s looking for information about a series of unsolved murders that look eerily similar to the killings on Mal’s old list. And the FBI agent isn’t the only one interested in this bookseller who spends almost every night at home reading. The killer is out there, watching his every move—a diabolical threat who knows way too much about Mal’s personal history, especially the secrets he’s never told anyone, even his recently deceased wife.
To protect himself, Mal begins looking into possible suspects . . . and sees a killer in everyone around him. But Mal doesn’t count on the investigation leaving a trail of death in its wake. Suddenly, a series of shocking twists leaves more victims dead—and the noose around Mal’s neck grows so tight he might never escape.

Comment: This book was quite hyped among readers for its clever plot. I admit I too was caught in its promising web and recently it became possible to do a buddy read with two friends and that's why I got to it now.

In this first person narrative, the protagonist Malcolm, a co-partner at a bookstore and the one responsible for its working - the other owner is more on the silent side - sees his quiet life suddenly changing when an FBI agent comes to ask about a list of books featuring perfect murders he wrote for the bookstore's blog. The bookstore is specialized in crime books and that list has some known and others less known titles which, apparently, someone is trying to emulate in real life and the agent believes the list is the starting point. Malcolm feels this is strange but agrees to help by explaining some plots and motifs on the books mentioned, not knowing the killer might have his sights on him as well. But will Malcolm wait for something to happen or will he take action on his own as well...?

This was truly a clever story. The author has obviously dedicated a lot of his time plotting how to connect all the details in this book and how would they make sense. I got the feeling this was done so carefully that some of the impact I suppose the author had in mind was a little lost because the twists weren't as surprising as they could have. At least, to me, the twist presented half way - which I assume was aimed to be a big one - was actually a little disappointing because the wording/writing just made it too predictable.

With this I mean to say the atmosphere created, leading to this first big discovery, had so many little clues and hints which were hard to miss. I think that, in the attempt to be cunning, the result wasn't as powerful as it could and from then on, my impression of everything started to diminish and I felt a little sad the path chosen was this one and not something that could make it easier to connect the reader with the characters' motivations, both the "good" and the "bad guys. 

Putting aside the big scenes/twists, this was a very enjoyable reading experience. The writing could be better but the style is easy and appealing, making me want to turn the page. This was the first book by the author I tried and despite the details I lied less, I still feel curious enough to read other things by him, especially the ones recommended by some known readers to me.

One  - or the - element which contributed the most to this in my opinion, was the fantastic inclusion of so much book talk! I should say, though, the books mentioned in the blurb which were included as part of Malcolm's list are all "spoilered" in this novel and if someone feels curious, should really read them before reading this one, otherwise it will be quite annoying. I wasn't expecting it so one or two were a disappointment because now I know the twist, but for the most part is was simply a lot of fun to go though all of them and the possible discussions.

Malcolm works in a bookstore so that helps making him a book lover as well and it was really great to have such a big part of the plot centered on books and so much related to the world of books and reading...I'd say this was probably the main reason I was even interested in the book but it was rewarding to have so much about those books and to have the notion they were important for the development of the plot and to add substance to what was being discussed among the characters.

As the plot moves along, many things start to align and make (more) sense but I think the very end was a little too melodramatic... I see the homage the author wants to pay to classic crime and suspense books and how his favorite certainly influenced his choices, but a story which promised to be so thoughtful and interesting to analyze did fall into some clichés and a little bit of foolishness, which I think could have been avoided and made into something stronger.

All in all, I liked it, yes. It was fascinating to read, alluring in several moments but I think the key scenes and situations were a little misused and lacked validity.
Grade: 7/10

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