Author Peter Swanson“I do love a story that involves an ordinary person either deciding to commit a crime or a murder, or being tempted to do so.”

As heard on The Ryan Tubridy Show

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If you want to commit the perfect murder, but don’t know where to start, you should look no further than Peter Swanson’s new book, Rules for Perfect Murders. It tells the story of a bookseller who puts together a list of books that contain – yes – perfect murders. But the list is then used by someone as, well, an instruction manual.

“As soon as I came up with this idea of someone creating this list of perfect murders, I then thought, ‘Well, what if someone else uses this list to commit real crimes?’ And that was the premise of my book.”

So what are the books that Peter’s bookseller reckons contain the perfect murders? Agatha Christie’s The ABC Murders is one – and you’d expect an Agatha Christie to be in there. You mightn’t expect AA Milne, though – the Winnie the Pooh author only wrote one crime novel called The Red House Mystery, and Peter rates it highly. Malice Aforethought by Francis Iles (a pen name of Anthony Berkeley Cox) is a 1930s crime novel about how to murder your wife; James M Cain’s classic Double Indemnity makes the list, as does Patricia Highsmith’s Strangers on a TrainDeathtrap, a play by Ira Levin, American crime writer John D MacDonald’s The Drowner and, the final book on the list of perfect murders is The Secret History by Donna Tartt. And Peter recalled all those titles off the top of his head – at 4.30 in the morning, no less. Impressive!

As well as the books on the perfect murder list, Peter also cites Alfred Hitchcock as a big influence on Rules for Perfect Murders:

“It’s an Alfred Hitchcock thing, which is the focus on the ordinary person involved in a world of crime, as opposed to focusing just on a detective.”

And it’s also a Patricia Highsmith thing, Peter tells Ryan, referencing Strangers on a Train again:

“I do love a story that involves an ordinary person either deciding to commit a crime or a murder, or being tempted to do so. It just strikes me as a fascinating subject: what we’d all be capable of in certain circumstances.”

Ryan tells Peter that he’s bought all his books – he’s making his way through them at the moment – and he detects a love for old and/or classic movies in Peter’s work. It’s something that Peter is happy to acknowledge:

“I did grow up watching old movies. I had a mom who quite liked Alfred Hitchcock and introduced me at an early age to, I’m pretty sure the first one I saw was Dial M for Murder and I was kind of mesmerised by that film and went on to see as many of those as possible.”

You can hear Ryan’s full chat with Peter Swanson by tapping (or clicking) here.

Rules for Perfect Murders by Peter Swanson is published by Faber and Faber.

Niall Ó Sioradáin

© The Listener 2020

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