4½ Stars for Rules for Perfect Murders by Peter Swanson

This is a very clever book on a number of levels. Peter Swanson has pulled off two very difficult tricks in one book:

  • He has made us care about a character who, if not actively dislikeable, has nothing to commend him. The protagonist makes a point of telling us that he finds it easy enough to make someone’s surface acquaintance but almost impossible to move beyond that to real friendship, and that is exactly the way the reader feels about him
  • He has written a new version of a very well-known book – probably one of Agatha Christie’s best-known and most written about – without our realising that that is what we are reading until quite late in the book. We know something is going on and Swanson nudges us in that direction with a cleverly inserted musing on the history and current popularity of the unreliable narrator – but it isn’t until the final two chapters (which closely parallel the final two chapters of the Christie book) that we completely understand what the author is up to.

This is not really a mystery in the Agatha Christie sense, because the unravelling does not come from a series of clues – instead, as is normal in mystery fiction today, the killer is simply introduced to us at the appropriate point. The reason I’ve taken half a star if you’re reading this on my blog and a full star if you’re reading it on Amazon from something that is otherwise five-star perfect is that there is no “Of course!” moment – you don’t think, as you do with the very best mysteries, “How did I miss that? It’s been staring at me almost from Page 1.”

Nevertheless, it’s an excellent book and I recommend it.

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