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A Talent for Murder by Peter Swanson

Thriller

A Talent for Murder

Repeat author

Peter Swanson is back at Book of the Month – other BOTMs include Before She Knew Him.

by Peter Swanson

Excellent choice

Excellent choice

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Quick take

If you began to suspect the spouse you recently married might be a murderer, what would you do? Asking for a friend.

Good to know

  • Illustrated icon, Psychological

    Psychological

  • Illustrated icon, Multiple_Viewpoints

    Multiple viewpoints

  • Illustrated icon, Nonlinear_Timeline

    Nonlinear timeline

  • Illustrated icon, Marriage_Issues

    Marriage issues

Synopsis

Martha Ratliff conceded long ago that she’d likely spend her life alone. She was fine with it, happy with her solo existence, stimulated by her job as an archival librarian, constantly surrounded by thought-provoking ideas and the books she loved. But then she met Alan, a charming and sweet-natured divorcee with a job that took him on the road for half the year. When he asked her to marry him, she said yes, even though he still felt a little bit like a stranger.

A year in and the marriage was good, except for that strange blood streak on the back of one of his shirts he’d worn to a conference in Denver. Her curiosity turning to suspicion, Martha investigates the cities Alan visited over the past year and uncovers 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 boyfriend and may have some insight. Intrigued, Lily offers to meet Alan to find out what kind of man he really is . . . but what Lily uncovers is more perplexing and wicked than they ever could have expected.

Free sample

Get an early look from the first pages of A Talent for Murder.

A Talent for Murder

JOSIE

Even though Josie Nixon had graduated from college and gotten married and knew how to hang curtains and had opened a retirement account, going to this conference still felt like the most grown-up thing she had ever done. Something about being sent somewhere for your work, about being paid to travel, about attending a professional event that had an acronym, just seemed so fucking adult.

After checking in at the long table in the student union building of Shepaug University, accidentally standing in the A–M line instead of the N–Z, Josie was given a cool tote bag with the AEC logo on it. It was white canvas, designed to look as though it were paint-splattered. She took the bag with her to one of the vinyl couches along the side wall and sat down. Inside the bag was her name badge, plus a lanyard to hang it on, and the program for the three-day-event. There was also a bottle of water, a bag of locally made potato chips, and a chocolate bar, also from a local company. She loved free stuff, and all her loot made her inexplicably happy. After snapping a picture on her phone of the other teachers checking in, she sent a text to Travis, even though he’d already told her that he didn’t need a play-by-play of her weekend. He wanted her to feel independent, do whatever she wanted, but she did want him to know she’d arrived safe. She’d have felt that way if the roles were reversed. He texted her back right away, one red heart and one black.

She studied the program even though she’d already read it online, pre-picking the workshops and panels she hoped to attend. What was cool about the Art Educator Conference was that even though it had a pedagogical bent, many of the workshops were simply art instruction. She was most excited for collage, and for the puppet-making workshop. Two teachers wandered over and asked if they could share the couch. She slid along and they plopped down next to her, a man and woman, the man with a gray ponytail and the woman tall and fairly ravishing. Together they looked at the program. They were clearly colleagues, they’d been to this conference before, and they were making lots of jokes about the content. When the man read the name of the puppet workshop out loud, the woman said, “Hard pass.”

When Brian, her supervisor, had told her that she’d been approved to attend this conference, she’d let him know it was going to be her first work trip. “Be prepared,” he’d said, “teachers are the worst at conferences, like poorly behaved children. They do things they’d never let their own students do.”

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Why I love it

Warning: this story may induce symptoms that include whiplash and raised arm hairs. Proceed with caution, reader. Just when you think you’ve lost the ability to be surprised by a book, Peter Swanson writes twist after turn in A Talent for Murder.

Martha suspects her husband is hiding a major secret. There is something off about his mannerisms and things feel stranger every time he comes back from a business trip. He stows away his unpacked bag in the closet. One time Martha even finds a bloodstain on his shirt. And then she notices a suspicious news article, and then another. One murder for each trip.

As coincidences grow too frequent to ignore, Martha reaches out to her college friend for help. Lily once saved her from a bad relationship, and a bad man. A relationship that left her so scarred that Martha grew to believe she was cursed in love. Now, she fears the man she married is a serial killer. While Martha must hope her friend does not need to save her again, Lily must hope she can.

Peter Swanson’s talent for suspense permeates this story: it is chilling, disquieting, and eerily smart. A gripping psychological thriller, A Talent for Murder will make you want to sleep with the lights on, become a detective, or both.

Thriller
First Lie Wins
No One Can Know
Middle of the Night
Listen for the Lie
A Talent for Murder
One Perfect Couple
Darling Girls
Kill for Me, Kill for You
Murder Road
Daughter of Mine
The Fury
Only if You’re Lucky
The Other Mothers
The Resort
When I’m Dead
The Soulmate
What Lies in the Woods
She Started It
The Only One Left
Dark Corners
Blacktop Wasteland
All the Dangerous Things
The Only Survivors
The Broken Girls
The Family Game
The Push
We Were Never Here
Things We Do in the Dark
The Golden Couple
The Collective
The Stranger Upstairs
Gone Tonight
Too Good to Be True
The Last Word
You Are Not Alone
Rock Paper Scissors
Not a Happy Family
A Flicker in the Dark
The Last Flight
Reckless Girls
The House Across the Lake
The Wife Upstairs
The Last Thing He Told Me
The Maidens
Everything We Didn't Say
Invisible Girl
The Paris Apartment
You're Invited
The Last Party
Dark Places
Pieces of Her
The Wife Between Us
Sharp Objects
None of This Is True
The Silent Patient
The Winter Sister
The Other Woman
Necessary People
The Family Upstairs
The Night Swim
Girl A
The Hunting Wives
Just Another Missing Person
First Born
The Lies I Tell
Breathless
Thriller
View all
First Lie Wins
No One Can Know
Middle of the Night
Listen for the Lie
A Talent for Murder
One Perfect Couple
Darling Girls
Kill for Me, Kill for You
Murder Road
Daughter of Mine
The Fury
Only if You’re Lucky
The Other Mothers
The Resort
When I’m Dead
The Soulmate
What Lies in the Woods
She Started It
The Only One Left
Dark Corners
Blacktop Wasteland
All the Dangerous Things
The Only Survivors
The Broken Girls
The Family Game
The Push
We Were Never Here
Things We Do in the Dark
The Golden Couple
The Collective
The Stranger Upstairs
Gone Tonight
Too Good to Be True
The Last Word
You Are Not Alone
Rock Paper Scissors
Not a Happy Family
A Flicker in the Dark
The Last Flight
Reckless Girls
The House Across the Lake
The Wife Upstairs
The Last Thing He Told Me
The Maidens
Everything We Didn't Say
Invisible Girl
The Paris Apartment
You're Invited
The Last Party
Dark Places
Pieces of Her
The Wife Between Us
Sharp Objects
None of This Is True
The Silent Patient
The Winter Sister
The Other Woman
Necessary People
The Family Upstairs
The Night Swim
Girl A
The Hunting Wives
Just Another Missing Person
First Born
The Lies I Tell
Breathless