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Book Author: Peter Swanson

EIGHT PERFECT MURDERS by Peter Swanson: Book Review

Mal Kershaw, owner of Boston’s Old Devils Bookstore, wants nothing more than a quiet life.  An only child, a widower, a man with almost no friends, his daily life consists of going to work and going home after closing the store.  He might occasionally stop off for a beer or a quick bite after work, but that’s basically the extent of his social life.  And he has no desire to change it.

Then, during a blizzard, FBI Special Agent Gwen Mulvey enters the store.  She’s here, she tells Mal, because of a blog post he wrote years earlier called “Eight Perfect Murders”; now it looks as if someone is using that blog as a blueprint to commit murders of his/her own.

The first murders appear to be an adapted version of Agatha Christie’s The ABC Murders; in the current case, each victim’s name is somehow related to a bird–Robin Callahan, Jay Bradshaw, Ethan Byrd.  A fourth murder involves a man who appears to have been thrown from a commuter train, as was the victim in James M. Cain’s Double Indemnity.

According to Agent Mulvey, nothing connects the four victims except for the fact that their deaths mimic those in two of the books on Mal’s list.  But, she continues, she also has a “gut feeling” about the case.  The victims weren’t bad people, but neither were they good.  ‘”I’m not sure any of them were really well liked.”

There’s another suspicious death that Mulvey tells Mal about, that of a woman who apparently died from a heart attack in her Maine home.  When Mal hears the woman’s name, Elaine Johnson, he doesn’t tell the agent that she had been a customer of Old Devils Bookstore and a particularly unpopular one.  He rationalizes this by thinking, “I was sure she was withholding information from me, so I planned on withholding this information from her.”

Their conversation makes Mal think about his blog with the list of books detailing perfect murders, so he goes online to check the site.  The blog originally had two comments, but now there is a third, posted less than twenty-four hours earlier.  The author writes that he/she is halfway through Mal’s list and promises to get in touch when done reading.  The post is signed Doctor Sheppard, the name of the unreliable narrator in Christie’s The Murder of Roger Ackroyd.

Peter Swanson’s novel is an homage to many of the best writers of crime fiction–Dame Agatha, John D. MacDonald, Patricia Highsmith, A. A. Milne, Anthony Berkeley Cox, Ira Levin, and Donna Tartt–as well as being a thriller you won’t want to put down.  The author of five previous novels, he succeeds once again in coming up with a taut mystery that will have readers stunned at the ending.

You can read more about Peter Swanson at this website.

Check out the complete Marilyn’s Mystery Reads at her website.  In addition to book review posts, there are sections featuring Golden Oldies, Past Masters and Mistresses, and an About Marilyn column that features her opinions about everything to do with mystery novels.

BEFORE SHE KNEW HIM by Peter Swanson: Book Review

After reviewing hundreds of books over the past nine and a half years, I can honestly say that I’ve never read one quite like Peter Swanson’s latest  mystery.  It is truly a one-of-a-kind novel.

Before She Knew Him starts calmly, slowly.  Two married, childless couples live side-by-side in identical Colonial houses in a suburban Massachusetts community.  Hen, short for Henrietta, and Lloyd have recently moved to West Dartford and have been invited by their neighbors to a block party.  Hen is reluctant to go, preferring to stay home rather than mingle with people she doesn’t know, but Lloyd persuades her and they get introduced to the couple next door, Mira and Matthew.

Several days later Mira invites Hen and Lloyd over for dinner.  Not seeing a polite way to refuse, Hen accepts, and a few evenings later the two couples get together.  After dinner, Mira offers the guests a tour of their house so they can perhaps get some decorating ideas.

It is when the four of them get to Matthew’s study that things go awry.  It’s very different from the other rooms, filled almost to overcrowding with knickknacks, photographs, and books.  When Hen sees, in the midst of an otherwise seemingly ordinary display of objects, the small figure of a fencer on top of a silver pedestal, she nearly faints.

She recognizes, or thinks she does, that figurine.  She asks Matthew if he fences, and he says that the statuette is just one of the many items he had bought because it caught his eye.  She passes off her reaction as dizziness, and she and Lloyd go home.  But the more Hen thinks about what she’s seen, the more uncomfortable she is.

In very small letters on the bottom of the figure were the words THIRD PLACE ÉPÉE and JUNIOR OLYMPICS, with a date too small for her to read.  Could it be a simple coincidence that Dustin Miller, a former neighbor of theirs when they lived in Cambridge, was a fencer and that Matthew teaches at the school Dustin attended before he was murdered years earlier?

Hen suffers from bipolar disorder, although she is currently on medication.  When she was in college she had a particularly violent episode and was hospitalized.  Although it has been years since the last manic event, both she and Lloyd are wary about her becoming obsessed with particular thoughts that perhaps would lead to a recurrence of mania.  And now she can’t stop thinking about Dustin and his still-unsolved murder.

Hen thinks her past mental illness will stop the police from taking her seriously, so she decides to investigate on her own before involving them or telling Lloyd her suspicions about their neighbor.  But tracking someone you believe is a killer is a dangerous business.

Peter Swanson has proved in his four previous novels that he is a master of suspense, and Before She Knew Him only reconfirms that.  The reader will be with Hen all the way as she tries to prove that Matthew did murder Dustin.  The book’s plot is taut and its characters totally believable.  You may never look at your neighbors the same way again.

You can read more about Peter Swanson at this website.

Check out the complete Marilyn’s Mystery Reads at her website.  In addition to book review posts, there are sections featuring Golden Oldies, Past Masters and Mistresses, and an About Marilyn column that features her opinions about everything to do with mystery novels.

ALL THE BEAUTIFUL LIES by Peter Swanson: Book Review

There are the lies we tell to others (to impress, perhaps, or to make ourselves more important), and there are lies we tell to ourselves (to protect ourselves from acknowledging the truth of what we are doing or what our motivations are).  In Peter Swanson’s latest mystery, All The Beautiful Lies, there are both kinds of lies; it’s up to the reader to decide which is the more dangerous.

Harry Ackerson is a few days from his college graduation when he receives a call from his stepmother to say that his father is dead.  The night before, while walking on his favorite cliff path overlooking the ocean, Bill Ackerson apparently slipped and fell into the water below.

The initial police investigation quickly changes gears, however, when the autopsy reveals a bruise on Bill’s head; now it’s considered “a suspicious death.”  But who would want to kill this quiet man, owner of two rare book stores, married for several years to his second wife, and father to an only child?  Bill would seem to have had no enemies…but apparently he had at least one.

Nearly everyone in All The Beautiful Lies has a secret.  Alice, Bill’s widow, is the product of a very dysfunctional mother and an unknown father, two things she never told her late husband.  Her stepfather, Jake, was attracted to her before he married her mother, a woman he knew to be an alcoholic and sometimes drug abuser; after her mother’s death, Jake and Alice lived their lives closed to family and friends lest the true nature of their relationship be exposed.  Harry seems to be fearful of his sexuality, something he’s not ready to admit even to himself.  And who is the mysterious young woman Harry notices outside the used bookstore his father owned in their hometown, and why was she at the funeral, only to leave without speaking to anyone?

Peter Swanson is one of today’s best writers, regardless of the genre being discussed.  His characters are totally realistic in what they say, do, and think.  Their lies are what they have constructed to get through life–whether to hide what they dislike about themselves or to help them get what they want.  Either way, it’s a question as to whether they control the lies or whether those lies control them.

This is Peter Swanson’s fourth mystery and the fourth one I’ve reviewed.  He’s definitely one of the authors whose novels can never come quickly enough for me.

You can read more about Peter Swanson at this website.

Check out the complete Marilyn’s Mystery Reads at her website.  In addition to book review posts, there are sections featuring Golden Oldies, Past Masters and Mistresses, and an About Marilyn column that features her opinions about everything to do with mystery novels.

HER EVERY FEAR by Peter Swanson: Book Review

There’s good news and bad news about Peter Swanson’s latest thriller, Her Every Fear.  The good news is that this novel is as compelling as his two other mysteries, The Girl with a Clock for a Heart and The Kind Worth Killing, two outstanding mysteries that are reviewed elsewhere on this blog.  The bad news is that I’ve finished Her Every Fear and now have to wait a year for another of his incredible thrillers.

Kate Priddy is a twenty-something English woman who suffers from debilitating panic attacks.  She’s been anxious and fearful ever since she was a child, although then it seemed there was no rational explanation for these emotions.  Unfortunately, for the last five years she has had a good reason for these feelings.  At that time she was nearly killed by an ex-boyfriend and suffered a mental collapse.  But now Kate believes she’s nearly ready to move on with her life, although the operative word is nearly.

Her American cousin, Corbin Dell, is about to be transferred to London for a six month period, and he writes to Kate’s mother asking for help in finding a flat in the city.  Mrs. Priddy suggests an apartment exchange to Kate–Kate would live in Corbin’s Boston apartment while Corbin stays in Kate’s flat.  Much to her mother’s surprise, Kate agrees.  Although the two cousins have never met or even corresponded before, Kate realizes that to complete her recovery she needs to move away from her parents’ well-meaning but slightly smothering protection and launch her own life.  And for Corbin, well, who knows what motivations lie behind his temporary move to London?

As Kate enters her cousin’s building in Boston, another woman walks through the door at the same time.  By the time Kate and Carol, a helpful neighbor Kate meets in the building’s lobby, approach Corbin’s apartment, the stranger is knocking on the apartment door opposite.  Visibly distraught, the woman tells Kate and Carol that she’s a friend of Audrey Marshall, the woman who is renting that apartment, but that Audrey hasn’t been to work that day nor answered any of her friend’s increasingly anxious texts and calls.

Carol suggests that Audrey’s friend go downstairs to the doorman and ask him to open Audrey’s door.  All this is a bit too much for Kate, who decides to leave the two women and go into her cousin’s apartment.  Jet-lagged and exhausted, she falls asleep.  But later the next day, Kate’s ill fortune appears to have followed her across the Atlantic–the police are knocking on her door to tell her that Audrey Marshall has been murdered.

Peter Swanson is absolutely one of the most gifted mystery writers around.  His plot will have you turning the pages of his books faster and faster until you reluctantly reach the last page.  His characters are totally realistic, with their strengths and weaknesses the characteristics you see among people you know.  He is a master at keeping the tension at a high level, with twists and turns that will keep you spellbound until the end.

You can read more about Peter Swanson at this web site.

Check out the complete Marilyn’s Mystery Reads at her web site.

 

THE KIND WORTH KILLING by Peter Swanson: Book Review

Two strangers meet in a bar, talk while having a couple of drinks, and get on the same plane from England to Massachusetts.  It happens all the time.  Rarely does it end in murder. 

There is something, however, called Airport Rules.  That’s a variation of What Happens in Vegas Stays in Vegas, so what you say or do on an airplane doesn’t go any further than the plane.  Unless….

Ted Severson is a very successful businessman, a man with so much money that even the crash of 2008-09 didn’t touch him.  Lily Kinter is an archivist at a small college outside Boston, just striking up a conversation with a stranger to while away time before their flight takes off.  Perhaps it’s the result of the two martinis Ted has already drunk, and the third one he’s about to consume, but he tells Lily the story of his marriage to Miranda.  They met, they married, they live in Boston, and they’re in the process of building a second home in Maine.  Miranda has been overseeing every decision regarding the house, staying in Kennewick for days at a time to work with Brad Daggett, the contractor who is building the seven-bedroom house overlooking the Atlantic.

Planning to surprise his wife, Ted drives up to Kennewick, but it turns out that he is the one surprised.  Looking in one of the windows as he approaches the house, he sees Miranda and Brad sharing a moment that appears so intimate that it immediately makes him suspicious.  Then, pretending he has driven up merely for the afternoon, he leaves the construction site only to return later and, from a hiding place across the beach and aided by binoculars, witnesses the two having sex.

Lily has listened without comment to Ted’s story, the two of them now on the plane heading for Boston.  She asks him what he plans to do about the adultery he has seen.  “What I really want to do is to kill her,” Ted replies.  Without a pause, Lily responds, “I think you should.”

The Kind Worth Killing is told from several points of view–Ted’s, Lily’s, Miranda’s, and Henry Kimball’s, the Boston police detective who gets involved after the first murder.  In alternating sections, each narrator tells his/her story in the first person.  The characters are totally believable, their motives clear, and the very complex plot doesn’t have a single wrong note.  There are surprises on top of surprises, but not one feels false.

The final resolution comes on the book’s last page, and it’s perfection.  There’s not a moment’s letdown in this novel.

Peter Swanson has written a worthy successor to his debut novel, The Girl with a Clock for a Heart, which I reviewed in May 2014.  Mr. Swanson displays his talent by making us aware of his characters’ many flaws, yet somehow a bit of sympathy for them sneaks in almost against our will.  The three main characters, Ted, Lily, and Miranda, are all deviant in some way, but the author’s skill allows us to understand the reasons why.  The Kind Worth Killing is an outstanding novel in every way.

You can read more about Peter Swanson at this web site.

Check out the complete Marilyn’s Mystery Reads at her web site.

THE GIRL WITH A CLOCK FOR A HEART by Peter Swanson: Book Review

When I first heard about The Girl with a Clock for Heart, I didn’t understand what the title meant.  But after reading Peter Swanson’s remarkable first novel, I totally get it.  Liana Decter has no more feeling, no more empathy, than a mechanical device.  She’s a human being without a heart.

George Foss is forty, working for a literary magazine and having an on-again off-again relationship with Irene, a woman he’s known for years.  But he can’t commit because he lost his heart (and some might say his reason) more than twenty years earlier when he was a college student.  That’s when he met Liana, then calling herself Audrey Beck, and the two of them had a passionate, whirlwind romance throughout their first semester. 

Each went home separately during winter break, George to Massachusetts and Audrey/Liana to Florida.  She gave him her phone number but asked that he not call her, saying that her parents wouldn’t be happy if she received calls from a boy she’d met at college.  She promised to contact him, but she never did.

The day George returned to Mather College, he phoned his girlfriend’s room several times but never got an answer.  Later that night, he got a call from her roommate telling him that Audrey was dead, having asphyxiated herself in her parents’ garage.  Devastated by grief, George takes a bus to the small Florida town where she had lived to pay his respects, only to find out that the girl at Mather calling herself Audrey Beck was actually someone else.  The real Audrey is dead, but where is the girl who has been using her name?  And who is she?

The Girl with a Clock for a Heart switches between past and present, between George’s college years and his current life.  George is one of the walking wounded.  On the outside, he’s gainfully employed, owns his own apartment, and is in a relationship.  On the inside, he’s stuck as the business manager of a literary magazine that’s destined to fold soon, and his relationship with Irene has been going nowhere for years.  He spends his nights at Jack Crow’s Tavern in Boston’s Back Bay, making a couple of drinks last as long as possible, before returning to his apartment where only his cat will be waiting for him.

But all that changes one night when, waiting for Irene to meet him for a drink, he looks across the tavern and sees Liana.  Even though two decades have passed, Liana still exerts an almost mystical hold over George, and when she tells him she’s come to him for help, he cannot resist.  Each favor she asks of him drags him more deeply into danger, but he’s helpless to stop himself.

The Girl with a Clock for a Heart is an incredible debut novel.  We all have known characters like George, who is so self-effacing that he has put his life on hold because of his first and only love.  And we’ve also known characters like Liana, so uncaring and selfish that, for them, the rest of the people in the world don’t exist.  Indeed, if Liana is the girl who feels nothing, George feels too much.

You can read more about Peter Swanson at this web site.

Check out the complete Marilyn’s Mystery Reads at her web site.