Mystery of the Month – Rules for Perfect Murders

What if writing a blog post could end in murder?

Malcolm ‘Mal’ Kershaw works at a Boston book store that specialises in mysteries, which is where Special Agent Gwen Mulvey finds him one wintry day. She wants to talk to Mal about a blog he wrote a few years ago – a list of eight perfect murders from popular mystery novels. Turns out someone has been inspired by Mal’s list, using it as a blueprint to commit real crimes. Mal is quick to offer his cooperation, agreeing to help Agent Mulvey in the hunt to find a twisted killer. But just like one of the big reveals in Malcolm’s favourite murders, the truth of what’s really going on is entirely unexpected.

Peter Swanson, author of The Kind Worth Killing and Before She Knew Him, uses his latest thriller Rules for Perfect Murders as an homage to Golden Age crime fiction authors like Agatha Christie and Patricia Highsmith, and contemporary bestsellers such as Donna Tartt’s The Secret History. For those readers familiar with the books on Mal’s list, it’s a welcome tribute, but for those who haven’t, there are some necessary spoilers.

Like all good psychological thrillers, Rules for Perfect Murders hinges on its intriguing narrator. And like all good narrators, Mal is an unreliable one. He even deliberately acknowledges this trend, questioning how the sudden popularity of unreliable narrators makes it seem as though “the omission of facts from a narrative hadn’t been the bedrock upon which psychological thrillers have been built for over a century”, citing Rebecca as an example well before Gone Girl ever hit the bestseller list.

As Mal throws us random pieces of the jigsaw puzzle, the full picture slowly becomes clearer, with each reveal more shocking that the one before. And as we learn more about Mal, and his deceased wife, Claire, it becomes eerily apparent that all of the characters are somehow connected to the murders. For the savvy readers who like to act as sleuth, there are plenty of opportunities to guess whodunit but the final twist may come as a surprise.

Peter Swanson demonstrates his expert knowledge of suspense thrillers and murder mysteries with a tale of vengeance, guilt and addiction, cleverly balancing some very dark moments with Mal’s mild-mannered narration. Rules for Perfect Murders is a truly fun read (as fun as a book about getting away with murder can be) and just the kind of perfect escapism for your self-isolation, or a great choice for your online book club.

Rules for Perfect Murders by Peter Swanson is published in Australia by Allen & Unwin and is published under the title Eight Perfect Murders in the US.

Standout Simile:

When (spoiler) first killed Eric Atwell, it was like popping a bottle of champagne. The cork was never going to go back into the bottle.

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