The Perfect Mother by Nina Darnton
When Jennifer Lewis gets a call from her daughter in the middle of the night, she knows something has gone terribly wrong. Now she has to go to Spain to free her daughter of murder charges, and it could take everything in Jennifer's power to save her, if she can.
At the heart of this story is a murder. Emma, an exchange student in Spain, is accused and arrested for the murder of a man who Emma claims tried to rape her. It is only after Jennifer gets to Spain that some elements of Emma's story start to sound questionable. Now Jennifer has to figure out what is true, what is a lie and how to free her daughter.
However, more important than the murder is Jennifer and her relationships. To begin with, there is her relationship with Emma. Of course, mothers and daughters usually have some type of special connection. Sometimes it is a good, strong one, but some are at odds with each other, and often it is a combination of both. The question is, what can a mother do to help her daughter when she thinks she's close to her, but her daughter has decided to rebel. How far will a mother go to save her daughter? More importantly, how can a mother cope with her daughter's problem if she won't cooperate and all but refuse that help?
We also get Jennifer's relationship with her husband Mark, the hard-working high-powered lawyer, who isn't always there for Jennifer or the kids, and sometimes Jennifer prefers it that way. This effects how Jennifer views and reacts to her sudden situation, as well as the people with whom she's in contact to solve the problem. With this, we also get Emma's relationship with the local boy she's seeing and his less than forthright behavior from the very beginning. With all of this, Jennifer, the lawyer Jose and Roberto, the private investigator they hire, have to puzzle through the information they have and find whatever they can to get Emma released. To all these questions, Darnton doesn't give us any easy answers.
Of course, all this gives us the perfect backdrop for a resounding murder mystery. So the next question is did Darnton deliver that with this book? Overall, I have to say yes, but I'd have to classify it is "mystery light" for several reasons. To begin with, from the very start, we know that the story Emma is telling isn't completely true. This means that we can quickly assume who the murderer is, although we do have more than one person to suspect. Darnton doesn't lead us down any dead-end trails, but does add a sub-plot mystery. Furthermore, Darnton makes us wait a bit too long for the big turn for either the better or the worse. However, when that does come, things really start to move and we're on our way. This leads us to a not-overly dramatic climax, followed by a run-down that seems slightly slow. However, just when we're thinking, "are we there yet," Darnton throws us a final twist and then ends the novel abruptly. While that might seem abrupt, I liked how Darnton put questions back into our minds that we thought we had answered.
Darnton writes this with a very simple and straightforward style that never overpowers the action. Still, she gives us enough background and smatterings of Spanish to make us feel that Darnton knows the local and understands the culture, particularly from an observer's point of view. Together this makes a read that is compelling enough to deserve the title of mystery, with a nice mix of psychology. For all of this, I'm going to give it four out of five stars and recommend it for those who like aren't huge mystery lovers, but enjoy one that also includes some non-mysterious drama.
"The Perfect Mother" by Nina Darnton, is available from Amazon.com, Amazon UK, Barnes & Noble, Kobo Books (USA, Canada & Australia), iTunes, The Book Depository (free worldwide delivery), new or used from Alibris or Better World Books as well as from an IndieBound store near you. I would like to thank the publishers for sending me an advance reader copy of this book for review via NetGalley. (This review originally appeared on my Times of Israel Blog.)