A Talent for Murder by Peter Swanson: compulsive, edge-of-the-seat murder mystery  – book review –

A Talent for Murder by Peter SwansonA Talent for Murder by Peter Swanson
A Talent for Murder by Peter Swanson
Fast approaching her forties, mild-mannered librarian Martha Ratliff had long believed that she was destined to never marry, but then she met travelling salesman Alan Peralta online and everything changed.

Following a whirlwind romance, the pair of book nerds have been wed for a year now and their life has settled into a routine that seems to suit them both... until Martha starts to suspect that not only is her husband still a stranger to her, but he might also be a serial killer.

If you like your psychopaths mad, bad, dangerous to know, or just wickedly seductive, then you won’t want to miss this summer’s most compulsive, edge-of-the-seat murder mystery from the grand master of misdirection Peter Swanson.

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Award-winning US author Swanson’s awesome, literary brain loves to defy readers’ expectations and in this stunning and ingeniously plotted psychological thriller, he harnesses all the familiar crime tropes and then performs some spectacular, mind-bending twists and turns.

Written with his signature stylish assurance and awesome complexity, and steeped in breathtaking malevolence, mind play and murder, A Talent for Murder bewitches and bamboozles us from the first jaw-dropping chapter, through the return of two memorable stars from his bestselling books, The Kind Worth Killing and The Kind Worth Saving, and on to the spectacular dénouement.

So buckle up, sit back and enjoy the ride as we meet Martha who conceded long ago that she would most likely spend her life alone. Far from being unhappy at the prospect, she enjoyed her solo existence, finding stimulation from her work as a librarian in Maine.

But then Martha hooked up online with fellow book lover Alan, a charming and sweet-natured salesman whose job selling novelty clothing items at teachers’ conferences took him on the road for half of the year.

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When Alan proposed, she had been filled with ‘a surge of gratitude and love’ and although she wasn’t exactly ‘attracted’ to him, she felt propelled to say yes, telling herself that she wouldn’t be completely giving up her independent life because Alan travelled so much.

A year later, Martha still believes she married a ‘nice man’ but also one that is ‘a complete and utter stranger to her’ who she doesn’t really know and whose presence possesses ‘something inexplicable... something that nagged at her.’

And when Martha thinks she sees Alan’s easy-going mask slip into the face of a cold, ruthless man as he arrives home from a trip one night, and she later discovers a strange blood streak on the back of one of the shirts that he had worn to a conference in Denver, her curiosity – acquired from a lifetime of crime novel reading – quickly turns to suspicion.

Soon she is investigating the cities Alan visited over the past year and uncovering a disturbing pattern... five unsolved cases of murdered women. Is she married to a serial killer or could it merely be a coincidence? Unsure what to think, Martha contacts an old friend from graduate school for advice. Lily Kintner once helped Martha out of a jam with an abusive, controlling boyfriend and may have some insight.

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Intrigued, Lily offers to meet Alan to find out what kind of man he really is... but what Lily, alongside ex-cop and old sparring partner Henry Kimball, uncovers is something more terrifying than they could ever have expected. And what Martha doesn’t know is that Lily has a dark side of her own.

Swanson’s outrageously clever brain must have waiting rooms full of psychotic killers, all eager to be checked out for a leading role in his next Machiavellian thriller, and A Talent for Murder dishes up an alluring and hypnotic tale of suspicion and betrayal, love, lust and spine-tingling evil.

But, in classic Swanson style, nothing is as it seems as readers are thrust into the unravelling of the deadly secrets that lie before, behind, and within Martha and Alan’s marriage, and then plunged head first into a riveting, multi-layered journey through a maze of mind-blowing discoveries, deadly intrigue, and killer punches.

And at the heart of the action is an exquisitely imagined cast of characters – some fashioned from the stuff of nightmares, and others placed tantalisingly at their mercy – whose role is to play out a dark, compelling and ingenious drama packed with suspense, menace and fast-paced action, and then liberally littered with clues and red herrings.

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With the unpredictable, shrewd and devious Lily Kintner, and her unlikely double-act partner-in-crime-detection Henry Kimball, weaving and dodging their way through more twists and turns than a snakes-and-ladders board, the hunt for a truly heinous villain could only ever be an intoxicating cat-and-mouse thriller. To miss it would be a crime!

(Faber & Faber, hardback, £18.99)

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