The Perfect Husband by Lisa Gardner
I’ve been a fan of Lisa Gardner’s work ever since I read my first book of hers, The Other Daughter, several years back. Every time I finish a book by her, I swear that it’s better than all the previous books I’ve read. And I say it again when I read another Gardner book.
The Perfect Husband is a purely thriller book which, being one of Gardner’s earlier books, sets the tone of her career.
The book is about Theresa “Tess” Beckett who is running from her psychopath husband Jim Beckett. Jim had approached Tess when she was 18 and living a bad life. He was the knight in shining armour and, within no time, they married.
Over time, especially after the birth of their daughter, Jim started showing a different side of him. He became darker, controlling and became mentally abusive. In fits of rage caused by “stress”, Jim committed rapes and murders. Being very smart, and also a reputed police cop, he doesn’t get caught soon. When Jim was being suspected, he ran away. The police force launched a state-wide manhunt to catch him, but weren’t successful. In the end, he was caught only because Tess helped the police by setting herself up as bait, getting hurt in the process. Jim is convicted of brutal rape and murder of ten women. Before going to prison he warns Tess that he will get his revenge on her.
Two years later, which is the present scenario of the book, Jim has escaped from prison. And Tess knows that he’s coming for her. Tess decides that she will not be a weak damsel-in-distress this time. She wants to be able to defend herself when Jim comes for her. Putting her daughter under the guard of a trusted cop, who also suggested a mentor for her, she runs away.
Soon after, Tess arrives at the doorstep of J.T. Dillon. A retired marine who has since become an alcoholic, J.T. is one of the best fighters. Tess manages to convince him to teach her. Since she’s afraid of being tracked by Jim too soon, she does not reveal her real name. Instead, she introduces herself under an alias.
Soon after, Marion Dillon is introduced. Marion is J.T.’s younger sister who is a high ranking official in the police force. After being cheated on by her husband, she reluctantly seeks J.T.’s company. Marion is instantly suspicious about Tess, who refuses to reveal her real name and insists on being taught by J.T.
Jim, Tess, J.T. and Marion are the characters whom the book mostly follows, with occasional chapters on other characters that are prominent for the plot.
All the characters are pretty much straight-forward. With much detail and precision placed on the plot of the book, the characters are a little under-developed. Instead of having characters with multiple layers, the book has black-and-white characters with a brilliant plot.
Jim is ironically the most likeable character. Not for his stellar personality, but for what he brings to the story. Jim Beckett is an exceptionally intelligent person with an IQ of 145. He commits several crimes and gets away with them because he’s too smart to leave behind clues or evidence. In fact, in the earlier chapters, he reveals the subtle clues he has left in every crime he committed. He was confident enough that his pattern won’t be figured out, hence he left the clues like a game, to see if he is caught. Jim laughed in the interview in prison because he outsmarted the whole police force standing against him. The only thing he cares about is his daughter, whom he genuinely loves.
With his intelligence and street smart nature, Jim is almost an unrealistic character. The nature of a brilliant psychopath is brought out. The author delves into Jim and his thought processes, giving us a clear view into the mind of a psychopath.
Jim is arguably the most interesting and captivating character in the book. He evades state-wide manhunts, and even commits a murder while being hunted. But he has his flaws, and Tess is one.
Tess is portrayed as the person who transforms from a naive girl to a determined mother. She vows that she will not let Jim get to her and take her daughter away. Once Tess has set her mind on something, she follows through no matter how scared she is or how impossible it seems.
Ex-marine J.T. Dillon is the complete opposite of Tess’s personality. He doesn’t care about anything. After losing his wife and child to an accident, he devotes his time to alcohol and just survives without really living. When Tess sees him for the first time, he’s completely drunk. Tess gives J.T. a purpose with the training. She makes him give up alcohol, which results in him thinking much more. He then pays more attention to the present and dwells on the past.
J.T. and Marion’s past is interesting. J.T. is the son and hence the golden apple in their dad’s eyes, even though J.T. did everything to throw away that ideal. J.T. hates his father and doesn’t want to be anything like him.
Marion, who worked very hard and became what J.T. was meant to be, does not receive appreciation from their father because she is a female. The book brings in gender stereotypes using Marion who faces discrimination in family as well as at work. Marion also faced abuse from her father as a child which she has blocked out in her memories. J.T. remembers everything and constantly talks against their father, which Marion cannot understand and hence it has caused friction in their relationship.
Speaking of complicated relationships, another such relationship is that between J.T. and Tess. Alongside the mentor-mentee relationship that J.T. and Tess have, with reluctance from J.T.’s side in the beginning, there is also a weird sexual energy between them. This feels off with the thriller and mystery story line because, out of nowhere, there is romance. This ruins the vibe of the book at multiple times, side-tracking the attention.
The main, and the best, part of the book is the thriller plot. Jim is the perfect villain for this story and the author has executed the plot well. The book is fast-paced and keeps you on the edge with the twists and happenings.
If you like fast-paced psychological thrillers which are written without rose-tinted glasses, pick this book up.
Happy Reading !
12th February 2019