Friday, December 25, 2020

Where's the warning label? Rules for Perfect Murders, aka Eight Perfect Murders, by Peter Swanson

File under:  WHAT WERE YOU THINKING?????   I don't know what was going through this author's head, but what he's done here is absolutely unforgivable.  Luckily I picked up the cheap paperback edition, because this book got tossed more than once across the room, something I do when I am so utterly frustrated with what I'm reading and don't want to scream. 

Since I don't read much in the way of modern crime fiction these days, trust me, the premise has to be out there enough to capture my attention, and that is what drew me to this book.  I reprint here the back-cover blurb:

"Years ago Malcolm Kershaw wrote a list of his 'Eight Favorite Murders' for his Old Devils mystery bookshop blog. Among others, it included those from Agatha Christie's The A.B.C. Murders, Patricia Highsmith's Strangers on a Train and Donna Tartt's The Secret History. Now, just before Christmas, Malcolm finds himself at the heart of an investigation -- as an FBI agent believes someone may be re-enacting each of the murders on his list."

Oh, I thought, this sounds really good, and with the mention of the older crime novels I was hooked.  Then I started reading and nearly choked.  Some seventeen pages in, Malcolm's old blog post was offered in its entirety, with each of the eight books not only summarized (which is okay), but the plot reveals given away (which is not okay).  To make matters worse, as we get more into this story, the author decides to go further,  giving away all of the show on each of the eight "perfect murders,"  and he's not quite done.  He goes on to spoil other classics, including (and this is truly an act of anathema),  Christie's The Murder of Roger Ackroyd.  

Go ahead, feel free to argue, saying that the author in his own way is paying homage to these older books. Now  I'm no stranger to homage -- the last crime novel I read, Yukito Ayatsuji's The Decagon House Murders, was clearly a tribute to Christie's And Then There Were None (which, by the way, Swanson spoils in this book as well) -- but giving everything away is not the way to do it. 

Then there's the story itself, which to me was dull, lacking enough suspense to take me to the level of being fully engaged.  It's like this: since the back-cover blurb already reveals that "someone may be re-enacting the murders," we already know what's coming.  We're also reminded of the exact book each murder is based on, including those that happened in the past.   Not only that, but it was so easy to put my finger on who exactly is behind all the killing, since the author practically gives it away close to the start.   And just one more thing:  there could have been so much paring done here to make it sleeker, more taut, and to heighten the suspense; in short, some judicious editing would have certainly helped. 

Just so you know, the eight books that the author totally wrecks for potential readers are 

The Red House Mystery, by AA Milne
Malice Aforethought, by Anthony Berkeley Cox
The ABC Murders, by Agatha Christie
Double Indemnity, by James M. Cain
Strangers on a Train, by Patricia Highsmith
The Drowner, by John D. MacDonald*
Deathtrap, by Ira Levin 
The Secret History, by Donna Tartt

I asterisked The Drowner because it's the only one of the books (like the narrator of this story reminds his readers, Deathtrap is a play) I haven't read, and now I guess I don't need to since I know exactly what's going to happen and how.  Too bad -- that one looked like fun. 

I'm looking at reader reviews and people are absolutely loving this novel, which, you know, to each his/her own.   I am afraid that I am once again swimming against the tide here.

I have to be honest and say that for some time now,  I've been much happier with crime novels from yesteryear -- for the most part they're well and often uniquely plotted, characters seem to be more well defined, and even in the worst ones there's usually a modicum of suspense to be had, none of which is the case here.  

Feel free to throw tomatoes. I don't care. 


  1. I agree with you. When I read about this book, I thought, how can he write this book without spoiling the others? Which is a total no-no for me. I have read 5 of the books you listed, and I would be really mad to have the other 3 spoiled. I am glad you warned me before I spent good money on this book someday, because I would have tossed it out just on principle.

    1. LOL! I was so excited to read this book and then so let down. I am never believing hype again. He did, as you said, a definite no-no for sure! What takes the cake is that as far as Deathtrap he actually spoils the film made from the play!

  2. Thank you so much for the excellent detailed review.
    I abhor spoilers so in spite of the good reviews, it’s one that won’t be added to my reading list.

    1. I never advocate not reading something because I don't particularly like it. Having said that, what he did was absolutely unforgivable!! I own a copy of The Drowner, and it will likely sit for a few more years until I forget about this book. The killer for me was spoiling The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, a book you can ONLY read once.


I don't care what you write, but do be nice about it