I'm pretty sure I've derided mystery novels in the past for being gimmicky. Well, this one is pretty gimmicky too. So I need to adjust my reporting criteria, I guess. Gimmicks are fine if the author can carry them off, and Peter Swanson pretty clearly does that here. The book was one of those on the WSJ's best mysteries of last year.
The book is first-person narrated by Malcolm Kershaw, co-owner of a Boston mystery bookstore. He's visited by FBI agent Gwen Mulvey, who brings her suspicions about a number of recent deaths: they seem to be following the advice in a long-ago post Malcolm wrote for the store's blog: "Eight Perfect Murders". In which he detailed a number of fiendish fictional homicides where the perps had designed their crimes to be unsolvable. (Well, nearly. One of them is Agatha Christie's The A.B.C. Murders, which Hercule Poirot figures out despite the villain's ingenuity.)
Gwen and Malcolm are an interesting detective team. But there are little clues along the way that say Malcolm might be one of those unreliable narrators. (Not much of a spoiler. He comes clean starting around page 66. But does he come entirely clean? Maybe. Maybe not. Keep reading.)
And for that matter, what about Gwen? Are we sure Malcolm checked her FBI credentials?
It's very twisty, a lot of characters to keep track of, but I found it utterly enjoyable. A bunch of mysteries are referenced (and some spoiled) and authors are name-dropped willy-nilly. The bookstore has a cat, and quirky customers. Wintertime Boston is described, down to the slush puddles.
There's one thing that made me wince a little. I'll try to be as unspecific as I can to avoid a spoiler: at a certain point in the book, a character's parentage is revealed. It's a shocking plot twist, sure. But it's also why they taught me the term "Dickensian coincidence" way back when we read A Tale of Two Cities in ninth grade.