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The Perfect Mother


The Perfect Mother

No matter how old one’s children grow to be, a middle-of-the-night phone call is terrifying and often with good reason. For mother of three Jennifer Lewis, the call coming to her Philadelphia home one midnight signaled the beginning of a long and terrible ordeal: her 20-year-old daughter, Emma, had been arrested in Spain in connection to a brutal murder. The Lewis family’s nightmare is at the center of Nina Darnton’s latest thriller, THE PERFECT MOTHER, but the psychology of both Jennifer and Emma are at the heart of this slim novel.

"THE PERFECT MOTHER is a ripped-from-the-headlines page-turner that packs an emotional wallop."

What Jennifer learns from the midnight call from Emma, a Princeton student spending her junior year abroad, is that “someone was killed” after a night out at a bar, and the police think Emma did it. But what Jennifer finds out when she arrives in Spain is that Emma’s life there is not what her parents thought it was at all. Having dropped out of school months earlier, Emma was living with a 35-year-old drug dealer whom she claimed was a political activist. The murder victim was a young man from a wealthy family who was stabbed to death and robbed of a large sum of money in Emma’s apartment. Emma’s story --- that she had never met the victim, that he followed her home and tried to rape her, and that she was rescued by a mysterious Algerian who fled the scene fearing deportation --- doesn’t hold up under close investigative scrutiny.

As the police continue to hold and question Emma, Jennifer and her husband, Mark, confront some brutal realities about their eldest daughter. Jennifer’s defense of Emma is tied to her complicated relationship with her daughter and her understanding of her role as a mother. Having given up a promising acting career to be a stay-at-home mother, Jennifer has always prided herself on her successful and caring parenting. Emma’s arrest casts a long shadow of doubt on any perfection Jennifer could claim as a mother.

Memories come to the surface that force Jennifer to rethink who her daughter really is and what she is truly capable of. And, to further complicate things, Jennifer begins to fall in love with the elegant, sensitive and heartbroken private detective, Roberto, whom she hired to help with the case. With Emma still in jail and her story full of holes, and with Jennifer increasingly focused on her feelings for Roberto, the Lewis family is clearly in crisis. Will Jennifer fully commit to her marriage and come to terms with Emma’s involvement in the crime? Darnton’s plot hinges on this question, but the emotional conflicts and realizations in this mother-daughter relationship drive the story.

THE PERFECT MOTHER is a ripped-from-the-headlines page-turner that packs an emotional wallop. The murder and the mysteries surrounding Emma’s time in Spain are interesting on their own, but the relationship between Jennifer and Emma and the true nature of Emma as a character are quite compelling and provocative. Though at times the mostly unsympathetic characters are a bit flat and the legal action slightly unrealistic, overall this is a darkly entertaining and thoughtful read.

Reviewed by Sarah Rachel Egelman on November 26, 2014

The Perfect Mother
by Nina Darnton