Review by Publisher's Weekly Review
In 2004, Malcolm Kershaw, the narrator of this outstanding fair-play crime novel from Swanson (Before She Knew Him), began working at Boston's Old Devils Bookstore, where he posted a list on the store's blog of eight mysteries in which "the murderer comes closest to realizing that platonic ideal of a perfect murder." Years later, FBI agent Gwen Mulvey tells him she's investigating multiple killings that she believes may have been influenced by his blog post. For example, Mulvey is probing the deaths of three people apparently connected only by having a name related to birds, a setup similar to Agatha Christie's The A.B.C. Murders, one of the books on the list. Mulvey is also looking into a murder that mirrors the circumstances of James M. Cain's Double Indemnity and hopes that Kershaw can give her a lead as to who might be using his list for a campaign of bloodshed. The stakes rise when Kershaw admits he knew one of the victims but chose not to share that with Mulvey. Swanson will keep most readers guessing until the end. Classic whodunit fans will be in heaven. Agent: Nat Sobel, Sobel & Weber. (Mar.)
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Review by Library Journal Review
Lonely, widowed Boston bookstore owner Malcolm Kershaw gets a call from the FBI and meets with an agent who thinks a cold-blooded killer is using his years-old blog post that listed "eight perfect murders" in crime fiction as a playbook. Gwen thinks that three murders could be tied to Malcolm's post; Malcolm, who has a few secrets of his own, wonders if the killer is someone he contacted on the dark web about trading murders à la Patricia Highsmith's Strangers on a Train. As the story unwinds, Malcolm's chilly, dispassionate narration becomes more unreliable and tension increases about who might be next and how it ties in with his list. The suspects range from his quirky millennial employees to acquaintances of his dead, drug-addicted wife, and everybody around him harbors dark secrets. VERDICT The wintry New England setting and eerily cool narration, together with trust-no-one twists and garish murders, will satisfy thriller readers; fans of classic mysteries by Agatha Christie, Ira Levin, and John D. MacDonald will enjoy how Swanson (Before She Knew Him) repurposes the plots. While you may not warm to Malcolm, you'll stay to the finish of this one. [See Prepub Alert, 8/25/19.]--Liz French, Library Journal
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Review by Kirkus Book Review
A ghoulish killer brings a Boston bookseller's list of perfect fictional murders to lifethat is, to repeated, emphatic death.The Red House Mystery, Malice Aforethought, The A.B.C. Murders, Double Indemnity, Strangers on a Train, The Drowner, Deathtrap, The Secret History: They may not be the best mysteries, reflects Malcolm Kershaw, but they feature the most undetectable murders, as he wrote on a little-read blog post when he was first hired at Old Devils Bookstore. Now that he owns the store with mostly silent partner Brian Murray, a semifamous mystery writer, that post has come back to haunt him. FBI agent Gwen Mulvey has observed at least three unsolved murders, maybe more, that seem to take their cues from the stories on Mal's list. What does he think about possible links among them? she wonders. The most interesting thing he thinks is something he's not going to share with her: He's hiding a secret that would tie him even more closely to that list than she imagines. And while Mal is fretting about what he can do to help stop the violence without tipping his own hand, the killer, clearly untrammeled by any such scruples, continues down the list of fictional blueprints for perfect murders. Swanson (Before She Knew Him, 2019, etc.) jumps the shark early from genre thrills to metafictional puzzles, but despite a triple helping of cleverness that might seem like a fatal overdose, the pleasures of following, and trying to anticipate, a narrator who's constantly second- and third-guessing himself and everyone around him are authentic and intense. If the final revelations are anticlimactic, that's only because you wish the mounting complications, like a magician's showiest routine, could go on forever.The perfect gift for well-read mystery mavens who complain that they don't write them like they used to. Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.
Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.