“Eight Perfect Murders,” William Morrow, by Peter Swanson
It’s a cold, snowy winter in Boston, where Malcolm Kershaw, five years a widower, runs the Old Devils Bookstore, a well-ordered mystery bookshop on Beacon Hill. He is not a particularly social sort; his closest companion is Nero, the shop cat named after Rex Stout’s eccentric detective, Nero Wolfe.
One day, an FBI agent named Gwen Mulvey drops by. It is not a social call.
She is investigating a series of mysterious deaths. On the face of it, there is nothing to connect them. It is not even clear that some of them are murders. But some years back, Malcolm had written a post for the store’s blog listing his choices for the eight most foolproof murders in crime fiction. Among them: Agatha Christie’s “The A.B.C. Murders,” James M. Cain’s “Double Indemnity” and Patricia Highsmith’s “Strangers on a Train.” Mulvey has a gut feeling that someone is using Malcolm’s list as a script.
If so, the killer might be someone Malcolm knows. Will he help her examine the similarities between the real and fictional deaths?
So begins Peter Swanson’s “Eight Perfect Murders,” an homage to classic mystery stories that offers both the charms of a puzzle mystery and the bleak atmosphere of a noir.
As Malcolm and the agent work together — sometimes going over the novels on the list, sometimes visiting crime scenes to look for clues — the connections between the real and fictional murders grow clearer. Soon, the reader begins to suspect that Malcolm and his cat are not what they seem.
The flawed main characters are well developed, the New England settings are vividly drawn, and the twists keep coming in this suspenseful, ingeniously plotted tale.
Bruce DeSilva, winner of the Mystery Writers of America’s Edgar Award, is the author of the Mulligan crime novels including “The Dread Line.”