The Perfect Murder by Stewart Giles

The Perfect Murder
Stewart Giles
Published 2017
Harriet Taylor #2
Preceded by The Beekeeper
Followed by The Backpacker

Detective Harriet Taylor, a relative newcomer to Cornwall, receives a call about two cats that were found mutilated outside their owners’ homes. Later that same day one of the two owners is discovered dead with words written on the back of her neck.

Harriet’s investigation is still in its early stages when another body shows up, also with words written on it. The methods used are completely different and yet these two totally dissimilar crimes are clearly linked, leading members of Harriet’s team to wonder if a serial killer may be on the loose in the town of Trotterdown…

When I started reading A Perfect Murder I was unaware that it was actually the second book in a series. This is something I normally take care to avoid and I was a significant way into the book before I realized that I was reading a sequel.

While I felt that I missed out on some important character details by skipping over the first book in this series, I did think that Harriet was an appealing lead and for the most part I enjoyed her interactions with some of her colleagues.

In the course of this novel Giles presents us with several killings, each of which is presented as a perfect murder. Initially these murders seem quite dissimilar as entirely different methods are used for each and the words written on the victims’ bodies change with each killing.

Of the killings we witness, the first is easily the most interesting and also the most disturbing as it involves both a brutal act perpetrated on an animal and also a memorable method of dispatch for the poor pet owner. Unfortunately the crimes that follow receive decreasing levels of space and attention to make their impact on the reader. For the early part of the novel I was intrigued and curious as to how these events all fitted together.

At this point I would issue the warning that the book’s blurb gives away far too much about the story and risks spoiling the answer to that very important question. Even if you skip over reading the blurb though it is far too easy to begin to work out what is going on, especially as Giles presents us with a limited pool of significant suspects to consider. This is a shame because some of the ideas here are quite clever, particularly the explanation of how some aspects of the second murder were achieved.

The revelation of the identity of the killer felt similarly disappointing and while I had predicted that identity, I did feel that the character’s motivation was unconvincing. This is particularly the case given the scale of the crimes they have committed by the point of the novel where that reveal takes place.

One other aspect of this book that I found particularly disappointing was the realization of the setting. I was born and raised in Cornwall yet found little familiar here beyond some elements of the Cornish landscape. Given how unusual Cornish names and speech patterns can be, I was struck by how English almost all of the characters felt. It is a small thing and it will probably not bother many readers and yet I found it utterly distracting and it became a barrier for me to believing in the story’s setting.

Overall, I think that there were some aspects of this story that were appealing and that grabbed my interest. The murders are varied and I felt that the idea behind the mystery was clever, even if the novel spoils it in the blurb. Unfortunately once you figure out that aspect of the story it is far too easy to arrive at the murderer’s identity as the novel never takes the time to identify and develop credible alternative suspects making the last third feel a little anticlimactic.

Review copy provided through NetGalley.

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