The Perfect Mother: A Novel

The Perfect Mother: A Novel - Nina Darnton ** I received this in a Goodreads “First Reads” giveaway **

Jennifer Lewis is so certain that everything in her life is perfect she is not even worried when the phone rings in the middle of the night. Regrettably for the Lewis family, the axiom holds true, and the phone call is very bad news. Their daughter Emma, studying abroad in Spain for a year, is being detained as a “person of interest” in the brutal murder of another student which took place in her apartment.

Coming home from a local celebration Emma was unlocking her door when a fellow student threatened her with a knife, pushed her into her apartment and attempted to rape her. Her screams attracted the attention of a good samaritan who fought the rapist and killed him in self-defense. The good samaritan is now, unfortunately, nowhere to be found.

As any mother would, Jennifer rushes to be at her daughter’s side and vows to do everything in her power to exonerate her daughter. When Jennifer arrives in Spain she is shocked at the change in her daughter finding her sullen, withdrawn and for some reason angry with her mother. Jennifer always considered herself the “perfect mother” – always there for her children – she gave up her promising career to stay home and be a mother. She is proud of the fact that she had always been able to solve any of her children’s problems, whether something as simple as Emma’s unhappiness at being in a different class than her best friend or something more serious such as the time Emma was caught cheating on an exam or shoplifting a dress. But can she solve this problem? Particularly when it seems that Emma doesn’t want her help.

Jennifer and her husband Mark hire a top criminal defense attorney to navigate the Spanish legal system and a private investigator to find the mystery man who holds the key to their daughter’s release. Jennifer starts her own investigation by talking to Emma’s friends at school soon not being able to prevent her own doubts from rising to the surface as one story unravels only to be replaced by another.

When I read the description of this book in the Goodreads Giveaway section it struck me as bearing a strong resemblance to the Amanda Knox case very much in the news over the past years. I couldn’t help but think to myself “yeah, another quick fictionalized version of the story to cash in on its notoriety and controversy”. I have followed the Knox case with interest (more avid than some and less avidly than others) and have read other books (not so loosely) based on it, usually with disappointing results. If the book description is meant as a device to get this book into people’s hands … kudos to the marketing team … it works! After all, it did influence me to take a chance on receiving the book by entering the contest. Yes, it involves a young, slightly naïve yet adventurous American student studying overseas. Yes, there is a murder of a fellow student of which she is accused. Yes, there are other small similarities used as jumping off points for “The Perfect Mother” but that is where the comparison ends. After reading the book, my opinion is that if it is a marketing ploy it does the book a great disservice. This book is strong enough to stand on its own two feet. It takes off in a completely different direction. It explores whether sometimes, as parents and particularly mothers, we do too much for our children. Are we doing more harm than good when we intervene in certain situations? It looks at how extreme circumstances affect not only the people directly involved but family and friends as well. Can a marriage already troubled survive the stress of an untenable situation? All that AND it’s a page-turner with a surprise jab at the end! I think this book would lead to some lively book club discussions. Good job Ms. Darnton.

So, giving The Perfect Mother all the positive raving why only the 4 star rating? Well, I don’t often say this, but I wish the book had been a little bit longer. I was very intrigued by some of the characters, one example being Roberto Ortiz, the private detective hired by the Lewis family. The non-resolution of his subplot left me a little disappointed and wondering. But maybe that’s a tale for another time?