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Perfect Little Children


Perfect Little Children

I have to admit that this novel’s premise is one of the most unique I have ever come across. The Leesons haven't seen their former best friends, the Braids, in over a dozen years. One day, when Beth Leeson takes a wrong turn while driving her son, Ben, to a football game, she passes by Flora and Lewis Braid’s new house. Coming upon the residence quite by accident isn't the most interesting thing that happens, though. It's when Beth sees Flora leave her SUV and head up the driveway with two small children. Puzzlingly, she calls them Thomas and Emily --- who were five and three the last time the Leesons saw them --- and they haven't changed a bit.

It sounds like there must have been some misapprehension on Beth’s part, because it is nearly impossible that two children have not aged a single day in 12 years. I then paused and reminded myself that I was reading a Sophie Hannah novel, and she can pretty much do anything in the name of suspense fiction. She has written top-notch psychological thrillers and even horror stories, but PERFECT LITTLE CHILDREN seems like it lies somewhere in the Twilight Zone between horror and science fiction.

"PERFECT LITTLE CHILDREN is one of the most ingenious psychological thrillers I have ever read, and the ending is completely satisfying."

As good as Hannah is, I was wondering how she would be able to sustain intrigue for over 300 pages when the events I have briefly outlined above all occur within the first chapter. There are just too many ways that a lesser writer could run off the rails with this bizarre premise ---- but she defies this and quite possibly pulls off one of the finest moments of her career. PERFECT LITTLE CHILDREN is the very definition of a page-turner as each chapter ramps up the suspense meter to almost unbearable levels and keeps it there right up to the final pages. Hannah is a brilliant plotter, and this is the reason why she has been honored by the estate of Dame Agatha Christie to continue her Hercule Poirot mystery series. She utilizes all of her plotting tricks in this latest book and sets them in motion all around a singular question: Why haven't the children grown up?

That question will become an obsession for Beth. Thankfully, she has a supportive family behind her. Her husband Dom, although a very careful and rational person, seems just as excited as Beth to find out what is going on with their former friends. Another enthusiastic ally is their daughter, Zannah --- short for Suzannah --- who is ready to do whatever she can to help her mother in her investigative efforts. Initially, Dom finds some interesting information online. To begin with, it appears that the Braids had moved several years earlier to Tampa, Florida, and there are even various social media photos of teenaged Thomas and Emily, along with their parents, enjoying life in the Florida sun. Lewis hit it big with a start-up company of which he is now the chairman, which prompted the move to the States.

However, these new answers yield additional questions. If those pictures are real, then who were those two children with the same names who looked exactly the way that Beth remembered them 12 years prior? Additionally, it seems curious to Beth that there are no photos of the Braids’ third child, Georgina, who was only an infant when they last saw her and now would be 12. Beth continues to snoop around where she swore she saw Flora and her children. She eventually learns that the family occupying that address are the Caters. At one point, Beth and Dom go directly to their front door and are invited inside to hash things out. Kevin is a little terse and refuses to let the Leesons see their children, who they claim are named Toby and Emma. His wife, Jeanette, speaks slowly with an Eastern European or Russian accent, and seems scared the entire time they are together.

I do not wish to reveal anything further and want readers to enjoy and savor each clue, red herring and plot twist just as I did. Every time I think that Sophie Hannah has written herself into a corner, she finds some extremely clever and plausible way out of it. PERFECT LITTLE CHILDREN is one of the most ingenious psychological thrillers I have ever read, and the ending is completely satisfying. If readers have not found Hannah by now, this would be a great place to start.

Reviewed by Ray Palen on February 7, 2020

Perfect Little Children
by Sophie Hannah