Wednesday, August 7, 2019

Book Review: The Perfect Son

By Jami Deise

Most domestic thrillers deal with one of two common plots – a child is missing, or a husband has died and his widow learns he was not the man she thought he was. Debut author Lauren North has combined these elements in The Perfect Son, which releases August 13th. While shaky at times, the book is a solid mesh of these story lines.

The novel kicks off with widow Tess Clarke being questioned in the hospital. She was stabbed on her son Jamie’s eighth birthday; now the boy is missing and the police officer she’s talking to seems more interested in Tess’s life since her husband Mark died in a plane crash than in finding the boy. Structurally, the book goes back and forth between interviews with Tess, her brother-in-law Ian, and her grief counselor Shelley, to narrative in which Tess describes the days after Mark’s plane crashed and her discoveries that Mark had secrets. Her grief is overwhelming, and needing to take care of Jamie is the only thing that gets her out of bed.

North has a background in psychology that is obvious in her descriptions of grief-stricken Tess, who literally cannot think straight after the loss she’s suffered. Mark speaks to her in her head, constantly recalling memories of special days, like the day they met, Jamie’s birth, a trip to the beach. While these scenes are convincing and heartbreaking, they also drag down the pacing of the book. Tess differs from the protagonists in similar stories in that she is unable to go galloping off after clues that would reveal what Mark was really up to before the plane crashed. The result is a much more realistic protagonist but a story that meanders along when it should be speeding.

Tess gets threatening phone calls. The airline investigation into the crash continues. Her brother-in-law, Ian, insists that Mark owed him money (what did Mark borrow money for?) and wants Tess to fulfill her executor duties. Shelley, who lost her son several years ago (he would have been the age Jamie is now), seems too good to be true. As for Jamie himself, at times he seems understanding of his mother’s grief; at others, he lashes out and wishes Shelley were his mother. These elements all work well together, but with the missing child in the present part of the narrative, they were also distracting. I wanted action in the present, not questioning.

To be honest, the ending did not work for me – it felt cliched; something I’d seen before. But the denouement made up for it, delivering a new twist on an old story that makes the book stand out from others with the same big reveal.

Grief is complicated, and even though Tess’s grief kept The Perfect Son from being a breathless thriller, it delivered a punch that resonated to the book’s last page.

Thanks to Berkley for the book in exchange for an honest review.

1 comment:

Dianna said...

I've seen this book several times on blogs today. Might be one I need to check out!