A frequent trend in novels, especially mysteries, is the presence of an unreliable narrator.
In "Eight Perfect Murders" by Peter Swanson, bookstore owner Malcolm Kershaw sets himself up as one from the beginning. Reading the book with this thought in the back of your mind, at least for me, made it easier to understand where the book was headed.
Boy, was it a twisted road!
"Eight Perfect Murders" is all about committing the perfect murder and what makes a particular murder perfect. I am an avid reader of mysteries — new or old, cozy or violent — and a lover of classics, such as Agatha Christie. However, there were several books mentioned throughout this story that are now on my ever lengthening to-read list.
If you love mysteries, this book could provide you with new books for your reading list.
Malcolm Kershaw is the owner of the Old Devil's Bookstore in Boston, specializing in mysteries both new and used. He is closing up early due to a snowstorm and is stopped by the arrival of an FBI agent with questions about a blog list he wrote in 2004. Special Agent Gwen Mulvey believes this list, "Eight Perfect Murders," is the basis of a series of unsolved murders in New England. She senses a connection based on style of death and the idea that the victims were not exactly nice people.
Here begins a twisting tale of past and present, dreams and reality, and the many connections between the agent, the bookseller, the victims and the truth.
The story travels from the present, the interactions of Malcolm and Gwen searching for a killer, to the reminiscing, Malcolm and his now dead wife, to the hazy, memories that may be dreams and vice versa, and finally adds several meetings with store patrons who may be more important than you think.
The story moves rapidly back and forth and characters keep being added to the growing suspect (or victim) list. I found myself double checking facts to make sure I was keeping all the characters straight. I also caught myself pausing to remember the story behind some of the books, especially favorites like Christie's "And Then There Were None," looking for possible clues to where this plot was headed.
I now realize I agreed with almost all of the reasons Swanson used to support the book choices his character Kershaw made when creating his list and in connecting other books.
Swanson is upfront about the fact that Malcolm and his list are behind several murders, some brought forth by Agent Mulvey and some not yet discovered. His time on the dark web and connection to a stranger by the internet are presented in great detail. However, many other connections are fuzzy because it is hard to decide if they are dreams or memories. Also, the reason why this internet acquaintance would want to create a further relationship just adds to the web of mysteries.
In the end, no one is really who they seem to be, and the truth behind their motives is even more complicated. I went back and reread the last couple of chapters when I finished because I found myself wanting to make sure I hadn't missed something or created a memory of my own that wasn't true. I should have known any book starting with a disclaimer stating names have been changed to protect the innocent would cause me to try and connect the dots and find hidden meaning in every clue.
So, if you like a good mystery with lots of twists and turns, no true villain and a challenge to your thought process and your morality, pick up a copy of "Eight Perfect Murders" by Peter Swanson and dive into a plot that will keep you reading long past lights out.
Donna Loehner is a children's programming associate at the Missouri River Regional Library.