Published by William Morrow on March 3, 2020
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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.
Eight Perfect Murders is clever. Mal posted a list of eight “perfect” murders on a blog years ago and now someone is using the list to conduct their own murder spree. Maybe.
I love all the references to other mysteries, but if they’re on your to-read list, be aware that this book contains lots and lots of spoilers, and not just for books on the list. I’ve read several Mal references, but need to pick up Malice Aforethought and A Secret History and maybe watch the movie version of Death Trap. I found The Drowner to be the most uninteresting on the list and will just skip it.
It’s probably not a good sign that my favorite parts of the book were the bits about mysteries by other authors. The mystery in Eight Perfect Murders is actually well done. Mal, who is telling us the story, is a well-rounded, flawed character. He owns a mystery bookstore but doesn’t read mysteries anymore. He’s got secrets, some of which he shares with the reader, so we question his motives. He’s surrounded by interesting characters, although we don’t get to know any of them well because Mal himself has trouble knowing people well. I’m not often a fan of unreliable narrators. That’s one thing that didn’t work for me. The clues were good, there were a couple of surprises, and I’ll never complain about a bookstore as a setting, but there’s no one to care about, no one to like or relate to, except maybe Mal’s employees who don’t get enough screen time. My other quibble is the motive, it was pretty weak, especially when compared with some of the classic books he mentions.
Eight Perfect Murders is trying really hard to be both gripping and an homage to classic mysteries. It missed on both accounts for me. It’s readable, but honestly if you haven’t read the books on Mal’s list in the blurb, pick them up first.