Author of the Month

Name: Peter Swanson

First Novel: The Girl With a Clock for a Heart

Most Recent Book: Rules for Perfect Murders

' of the most enthralling books I have read in recent times. '

If you want to get away with murder, play by the rules...

A series of unsolved murders with one thing in common: each of the deaths bears an eerie resemblance to the crimes depicted in classic mystery novels.

The deaths lead FBI Agent Gwen Mulvey to mystery bookshop Old Devils. Owner Malcolm Kershaw had once posted online an article titled 'My Eight Favourite Murders,' and there seems to be a deadly link between the deaths and his list - which includes Agatha Christie's ‘The ABC Murders’, Patricia Highsmith's ‘Strangers on a Train’ and Donna Tartt's ‘The Secret History’.

Can the killer be stopped before all eight of these perfect murders have been re-enacted?

There is something enticing for any book lover when a writer like Swanson namedrops classic crime authors like confetti. It is even more appealing when Swanson not only namedrops them, but weaves said authors, namely Highsmith, Christie, Ira Levin, A.A. Milne, Anthony Berkeley Cox et al into his plot.

Someone is killing off people and the murders appear to use the same plotlines from Malcolm’s list of ten crime novels on his online blog. As a crime reader of many years standing, you can’t help but tick off the books one has read as Swanson scatters books and their writers around like chickenfeed! It certainly got my little grey cells working as some I hadn’t read in decades!! I will also tell you now that Swanson does give spoilers to his list of crime books, so be prepared to find out the killer if you haven’t read some of these classics yet. I haven’t read MacDonald’s ‘The Drowner’ but didn’t feel it has spoiled it for me.

However, the list isn’t the be all and end all with Swanson’s latest psychological thriller which I consumed like a tray of amuse bouche at a crime convention! Beacon Hill in February under the threat of imminent snow felt it was cut off from the rest of the world. In this apparently insular town, the Old Devils bookshop takes centre stage and appears a lifeline for many residents. This feeling of a town under a magnifying glass adds to the sense of a place set outside of time and made me feel that if not for the Internet, this could have been a 1940s Noir written by Cain himself.

Deliciously, not all is calm under the surface of Beacon Hill and many are harbouring some secret, even Malcolm Kershaw has a secret bubbling under his mild mannered bookshop owner exterior. Swanson perfectly had me searching the shadows and spotlighting different characters as each swan to the surface, revealing their true self. I admit I was wrong-footed by Swanson as to whom was using Malcolm’s list for their murderous ends, but even the greatest of detectives can have an off day!

I got the sense that Swanson had a whale of a time writing ‘Rules For Perfect Murders’ as it embodies everything we readers love with a good old fashion crime novel. Not only does it pay homage to those icons of the genre, but delivers a fast paced thriller that ducks and dives whilst presenting a cast of characters who could be found in any Highsmith novel. Swanson’s latest is one of the most enthralling books I have read in recent times.

Reviewed by: C.S.

CrimeSquad Rating


1) ‘Rules For Perfect Murders’ is a book lovers paradise with lots about classic crime novels and authors. I bet it was fun to pay homage to your favourite crime stories and authors whilst writing your latest book?
What was particularly fun was getting to read, and re-read, so many great crime books. That was the bulk of my “research” as I whittled down the list of mystery novels that my protagonist Malcolm publishes as a blog post. And I knew from the beginning that since this book was going to pay homage to classic mysteries that I wanted this book to have classic mystery tropes. A cast of suspects, red herrings, clues, the reveal of a killer. I loved writing all those bits.
2) One of the books on Malcolm Kershaw’s list is Patricia Highsmith’s most famous book, ‘Strangers on a Train’. The plot from ‘The Kind Worth Killing’ also used a plot device from that book. What is it about Highsmith’s book that excites your imagination?
Two things, I think. First, I love her clear but elegant writing style. She just sucks me in. I also love how her books tend to focus on ordinary people either becoming criminals or thinking about becoming criminals, thinking about crossing ethical lines. She loved to write about moral slippage, about the grey area that most humans exist in. I guess I just love to read about that, as well.
3) Many of us can relate to Malcolm Kershaw: book lover, owner of the bookshop, Old Devils and with an encyclopaedic memory for crime fiction. Now a killer is using his list to commit more murders. How did you first develop the kernel of an idea from this situation?
I was out taking a walk, trying to come up with a clever idea for a murder in a short story I was writing. To help me think I was trying to remember specific murders I’d loved from books I’d read. Suddenly the idea was there, arriving out of nowhere: What if someone wrote a list of the best fictional murders, and what if someone else used that list to commit real crimes? By the end of the walk I’d plotted the entire book.
4) Despite his hospitable exterior, Malcolm has many hidden depths and could be classed an unreliable narrator. Again, I think that many readers could relate to Malcolm’s refuge in his books. Did you enjoy creating Malcolm?
I loved creating Malcolm. Even though he is the first-person narrator of this story, I think his natural inclination is to hold his cards close to the chest. I picture him as an iceberg, only showing a small portion of himself that exists above the water. I also love writing introverts, which Malcolm definitely is. Despite the darkness in his life, he loves nothing more than an evening spent reading a great book. That’s something I can relate to.
5) All your books have been standalones. Do you prefer writing one offs rather than a series?
So far, yes. I think if I did come up with a great series character - a character that I fell in love with - then I’d be interested to see what it’s like writing a series. Until then, creating standalones feels more natural to me. I love building up a new world, and I love that anything can happen in a standalone. The biggest drawback to writing a series is that you can’t kill your protagonist.
6) What can we next expect from Peter Swanson?
I’m finishing up a thriller that I can only describe as Ira Levin-esque. That’s the most I’m willing to say about it at this point.
7) With your experience as a writer, what advice would you give to anyone attempting their first novel?
That the most important thing is to finish the book. It won’t be perfect, it probably won’t be any good, but finishing is key. Push through to the end, and once you get there then the book exists, and you can either work on re-writing it or move on to book two. That’s the thing about being a writer; ultimately you just need to do the writing. Nothing else matters.
8) Having read your latest book, I think I am safe assuming you are a fan of crime fiction?! Which three crime novels would you like with you if stranded on a desert island?
Oh, good question (although, really, just three?!). I’d take And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie, A Kiss Before Dying by Ira Levin, and then I’d try to cheat a little. Can I have the complete Sherlock Holmes? What about the collected Ripley novels by Patricia Highsmith? If neither of those, then I’ll take Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier as my third novel.

Author photo courtesy of Lee Kilpatrick.