Malcolm Kershaw, Book 1

From the publisher:

From the hugely talented author of Before She Knew Him comes a chilling tale of psychological suspense and an homage to the thriller genre tailor-made for fans: the story of a bookseller who finds himself at the center of an FBI investigation because a very clever killer has started using his list of fiction’s most ingenious 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. There is 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.

The book is introspective of many of the great murder mystery novels of the past 80 to 90 years. Peter Swanson is obviously a fan of the genre and exhibits a deep knowledge of those books that have been accepted as classics in the field.

Malcolm Kershaw, the principal protagonist and the first-person narrator of the events, has grown up with a deep love of mystery stories and over his life has read most of those considered classics. He has worked in the bookstore trade since he started working and currently is the working partner in a two-owner book store called the “Old Devil.” The store has a reputation and makes a living in a field that has narrowed over the years with the advent of competition like Amazon. One of Malcolm’s projects was to compile a list of eight fictional murders, which he termed “Eight Perfect Murders,” as they all were not solvable with the list developing interest in the store.

Malcolm did get married but his luck did not carry outside of the bookstore where he worked. He found that his wife was cheating on him but did not know how to handle the situation. Fate intervened when his wife left a pot party drunk and was killed in a one-car accident while driving home. Malcolm, in thinking about the accident, placed the blame on the man that was her escort and possibly her lover. The problem was, of course, that if her escort was murdered as Malcolm dreamed of, the police would automatically put the blame on him. His solution was one that was written about by Patricia Highsmith in her 1951 book, Strangers on a Train. The novel postulated two men meeting accidentally on a train they were both on. Each had a person that he wanted to kill but not to take any blame for it. The solution arrived at was that each, at different times, would kill the person the other man wanted dead while the first one set up an alibi completely away from the murder location.

Entranced with the idea, Malcolm went on a web site and broached the idea for anyone needing help and familiar with the novel. The query was answered by someone and the murder pact agreed to. On the date that his wife’s lover was killed, Malcolm was away from the area with an iron-clad alibi. Then, in doing his part, he found that the act was far from disagreeable. Consumed with curiosity Malcolm began trying to locate and talk to the man that had killed his wife’s lover.

While the action involving Malcolm was playing out, a series of murders started to occur which seemed to follow the crimes committed in the books shown on the “Eight Perfect Murders” list. Malcolm was made aware of this when an agent with the FBI visited him, claiming she had noted the similarity to those described in the books and asked Malcolm if he would help her. He jumped in and became fascinated with the situation.

The novel is a draw with the added attraction that it produces an education into the leading books written within the “Murder Crime” genre and for those readers wanting to take their interest in that direction, a superb guide. If the lists of books are not important, Peter Swanson has presented an excellent trip into another world with a glance into twisted minds, and a definite all-nighter.

3/2020 Paul Lane

EIGHT PERFECT MURDERS by Peter Swanson. William Morrow (March 3, 2020). ISBN: 978-0062838209. 288p.



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