Title: The Perfect Mother by Nina Darnton
Genre: Contemporary, Mystery, Suspense
Length: 257 pages
Book Rating: B
Complimentary Review Copy Provided by Publisher Through NetGalley
When an American exchange student is accused of murder, her mother will stop at nothing to save her.
A midnight phone call shatters Jennifer Lewis’s carefully orchestrated life. Her daughter, Emma, who’s studying abroad in Spain, has been arrested after the brutal murder of another student. Jennifer rushes to her side, certain the arrest is a terrible mistake and determined to do whatever is necessary to bring Emma home. But as she begins to investigate the crime, she starts to wonder whether she ever really knew her daughter. The police charge Emma, and the press leaps on the story, exaggerating every sordid detail. One by one, Emma’s defense team, her father, and finally even Jennifer begin to have doubts.
A novel of harrowing emotional suspense, The Perfect Mother probes the dark side of parenthood and the complicated bond between mothers and daughters.
The Perfect Mother by Nina Darnton is an intriguing novel loosely based on a real life crime. More than a mystery, this story delves deeply into the impact the case has on the accused’s family. It also raises some very interesting questions about how much responsibility a parent should take for their children’s successes and failures.
Jennifer Lewis’s perfect life is shattered with a middle of the night phone call from her daughter Emma, who is currently studying abroad in Spain. The reason for the call? Emma has detained for questioning in the death of another student and needs her parents’ help. Of course Jennifer knows there has been some horrible mistake and she hurriedly makes arrangements to rush to Emma’s aid. It does not take long for Jennifer to realize that Emma has been less than candid about her life in Spain, but does this mean her daughter is capable of murder?
With very few exceptions, none of the characters in the novel are particularly likable or sympathetic. Jennifer is overly involved in her children’s lives and her entire identity and self-worth are wrapped up in their achievements. She makes excuses for their mistakes and instead of letting them accept responsibility for their actions, she does everything possible to smooth over their missteps. Jennifer has an unrealistic vision of what her family’s life should be and if something does not fit into the “perfect” life she has envisioned, she ignores it. Now, for the first time since she became a parent, Jennifer is forced to deal with life as it is, not what she wants it to be, but is she ready to deal with some harsh truths about herself, her marriage and her daughter?
Emma is spoiled, sullen and unappreciative of her mother’s efforts to help her. She steadfastly stands by her account of the events that led to the murder despite mounting evidence to the contrary. She refuses to answer questions and continually lashes out in anger at pretty much everyone around her. She is disbelieving that anyone could doubt her claims and this plays right into Jennifer’s uncertainties about herself. In the end, neither of Emma’s parents really care whether she is guilty or innocent. Instead, they are focused on gaining her release from prison and bringing her home.
In the beginning, husband Mark is just as unsympathetic as Jennifer and Emma. Instead of dropping everything to rush to Emma’s side, he stays behind to wrap up a court case, so it is easy to assume the worst about him. He is on the periphery of his children’s lives, but it soon becomes clear that is exactly where Jennifer wants him. His efforts to change the status quo are met with extreme resistance and instead of fighting her, Mark just finds it easier to let Jennifer have her way. But as events spiral out of control with Emma, Mark is finally ready to act like a husband and father. A little unvarnished truth from Mark is just what both Emma and Jennifer need to get them to pull their heads out of the sand.
Since the main characters are so frustrating, uncovering the truth about Emma is what really drives the story. The picture perfect image of the straight A, idealistic student soon gives way to the darker aspects of her personality and her past. The main goal of everyone involved in the case is her release from prison and no one really seems interested in her guilt or innocence. Which in turn raises some very interesting questions of how far parents should go in their efforts to help their children. When do parents step aside and let their children accept the consequences for their decisions? Should parental support be unconditional no matter what? And what if, in their efforts to help their children, parents ultimately do more harm than good?
The Perfect Mother is a very compelling read and Nina Darnton easily draws readers into this complex character driven story. The novel’s conclusion is utterly shocking and the final twist is completely unexpected and jaw-dropping. All in all, a worthwhile read that mystery lovers are sure to enjoy.