Interview With an Author: Peter Swanson

Daryl M., Librarian, West Valley Regional Branch Library,
Peter Swanson and his latest book, Eight Perfect Murders
Photo: Jim Ferguson

Peter Swanson is the author of six novels, including The Kind Worth Killing, winner of the New England Society Book Award, and finalist for the CWA Ian Fleming Steel Dagger and Her Every Fear, an NPR book of the year; His books have been translated into 30 languages, and his stories, poetry, and features have appeared in Asimov’s Science Fiction, The Atlantic Monthly, Measure, The Guardian, The Strand Magazine, and Yankee Magazine. He lives outside of Boston, where he is at work on his next novel. His latest book is Eight Perfect Murders and he recently agreed to talk about it with Daryl Maxwell for the LAPL Blog.

What was your inspiration for Eight Perfect Murders?

You could say this about all of my books, but in this case, my inspiration truly was my love of reading. And specifically, my love of crime fiction. The idea for Eight Perfect Murders came to me as I was mentally cataloging some of my favorite murders from books I’ve read. I imagined a fictional character compiling this same list, then imagined another fictional character using that list to commit actual crimes. And that was how the book was born.

Are Malcolm, Gwen, or any of the other characters in the novel inspired by or based on specific individuals?

The only character who is partly based on someone real is Malcolm, and he’s based on me. Not the specifics of what he does, but his reading history. Like Malcolm, I was a kid obsessed with reading, who devoured mystery novels through my pre-teens and my teenage years. The books that Malcolm loves in this novel are all books I love, as well.

How did the novel evolve and change as you wrote and revised it? Are there any characters or scenes that were lost in the process that you wish had made it to the published version?

Writing this book went fairly smooth. I did write myself into a corner early on and tried to write my way out of it by killing off a major character. When that didn’t work, I came up with a different way that solved the problem. So, at one point this book with a very high death count had an even higher one.

Within the novel, you mention other books that include a potentially perfect murder. Is there one of which you are particularly fond of that wasn’t included in Eight Perfect Murders? If not, do you have a favorite of the ones mentioned?

One of my all-time favorite mysteries is A Kiss Before Dying by Ira Levin. The first murder in that book is chilling and devious and I would have loved to have used it but it just kind of didn’t work. Also, I wanted to use the murder from another work by Ira Levin, his play Deathtrap.

What’s currently on your nightstand?

Ruth Rendell’s Death Notes. She’s a favorite writer and I haven’t read all of her books yet (she wrote a lot). I read two or three Rendell novels a year.

What was your favorite book when you were a child?

I had several, but my favorite author was Roald Dahl, and I was particularly fond of Danny the Champion of the World.

Was there a book you felt you needed to hide from your parents?

Strangely enough, the books I hid from my parents belonged to them. When I was nine or ten, I started to read their books that they’d left lying around—Ian Fleming novels, Jaws by Peter Benchley, Coma by Robin Cook. I knew they were too old for me, so I concealed that I was reading them.

Can you name your top five favorite or most influential authors?

Agatha Christie, John D. MacDonald, Stephen King, Ruth Rendell, and Graham Greene. (Those are the five that I would pick today).

What is a book you've faked reading?

I remember years ago having a spirited discussion with a woman about Sense and Sensibility, which I hadn’t read. Luckily, I’d seen the movie, and I think I got away with it.

Can you name a book you've bought for the cover?

I just bought a very cool UK hardcover of Moonraker by Ian Fleming. I’d already read the book, so I really just wanted it for its cover.

Is there a book that changed your life?

Roald Dahl’s The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar and Six More. It was my first foray into a darker fictional territory, and some of the stories haunt me to this day. But more important was the essay on becoming a writer that Dahl included in this collection. It made me want to be a writer.

Can you name a book for which you are an evangelist (and you think everyone should read)?

There are so many great books in the world and none of us will have time to read them all. That said, if you are a mystery reader, especially someone who has been enjoying the recent spate of domestic suspense thrillers, I’d more than suggest Rebecca by Daphne DuMaurier if you haven’t read it yet.

Is there a book you would most want to read again for the first time?

I would love to read Robert Bloch’s Psycho having never read it before, and also never having seen the film. That would be quite a thrill.

What is your idea of THE perfect day (where you could go anywhere/meet with anyone)?

A long walk with my wife in the Yorkshire Dales followed by an evening near the fire in a country pub. There’d be some reading involved, as well.

What is the question that you’re always hoping you’ll be asked, but never have been? What is your answer?

Hmm, I don’t have a specific question, but I never get asked about films, and I am a huge cinephile. So I’ll go with what are you five favorite suspense films and I’ll answer: The Lady Vanishes, Notorious, Charade, Body Heat, and Jackie Brown.

What are you working on now?

Finishing up a very Ira Levin-esque thriller, and starting to think about my next book after that.

The protagonist in Eight Perfect Murders has created a list of eight books he believes are perfect murders where the crime can't be traced back to the murderer. Why not read some of the classic mystery titles that inspired this book. They are available as e-books and e-audiobooks.

Eight Perfect Murders Booklist

Book cover for Eight Perfect Murders: A Novel
Eight Perfect Murders: A Novel
Swanson, Peter

In Eight Perfect Murders, author Peter Swanson pays homage to the classic mystery literature he uses as a foundation for his clever and compelling new crime novel. The characters are likable, if not reliable, and the circumstances, a serial killer using a book list from an old blog post as a blueprint for murder, is simultaneously old school and contemporary. Swanson paces the novel perfectly, revealing just enough information about the crimes and characters to keep the plot moving along with just the right amount of jolts to derail speculations about “whodunit.” Eight Perfect Murders is an intriguing puzzle of a novel.

Book cover for The Red House Mystery
The Red House Mystery
Milne, A. A.

Book cover for The ABC Murders
The ABC Murders
Christie, Agatha

Book cover for Double Indemnity
Double Indemnity
Cain, James M.

Book cover for Strangers on a Train
Strangers on a Train
Highsmith, Patricia

Book cover for The Secret History
The Secret History
Tartt, Donna

Book cover for The Drowner
The Drowner
MacDonald, John D.

Book cover for Malice Aforethought
Malice Aforethought
Iles, Francis

Book cover for Deathtrap: A Thriller in Two Acts
Deathtrap: A Thriller in Two Acts
Levin, Ira