Sophie Hannah belongs at the top of the list of authors who can sell a book solely based on the synopsis. If you have never read one of her mystery novels, just check out the jacket copy of any one of them and I can almost guarantee you will be intrigued enough to crave more. Sophie Hannah’s latest stand-alone, Perfect Little Children, is a prime example. Even the tagline on the cover hooks the reader into its well-crafted net: “Twelve years have passed….so why don’t Thomas and Emily look a day older?”
Are you still here reading this spoiler-free review or have you jetted off to your favorite book source to secure your own copy of Perfect Little Children? What makes Sophie Hannah so good at this is her role as impresario of plots hinged on the most unlikely and unexpected of premises; any doubt that she will resolve the seemingly-impossible in a completely plausible way has been eradicated after years of writing such novels.
So, Perfect Little Children, begins with Beth seeing her friend Flora Braid getting out of a car after arriving home. Beth and Flora haven’t seen each other in twelve years because of a falling out, but when Beth hears Flora call the names of her two children – Thomas and Emily – Beth expects to see how mature the five- and three-year-olds have become during the ensuing years, however the children that emerge from the backseat of the car look exactly the same as they did the last time Beth saw them – not a day older, dressed in the same clothes.
Therein lies the crux of the mystery within Perfect Little Children. Whereas many authors would have used this as a launching point for more strange occurrences, Sophie Hannah has enough faith in her idea that the bulk of the novel really boils down to: How is it possible that these children have not aged while everything around them seems to have progressed as normal? Countless possibilities are presented, but knowing this novel is filed in the mystery section and not on the sci-fi shelves makes the promise of satisfying answers even more titillating.
Around this central mystery, Sophie Hannah explores a number of fascinating human dynamics. There is the relationship between Beth and her husband Dom. His reaction to her claims feel authentic and watching as they navigate this challenging period is both interesting and rewarding. Similarly, when their daughter Zannah begins to help her mother with the investigation, the result is some of the most delightful scenes in the novel. At times their interactions play out like a female buddy-film, while at other times Beth’s Momma Bear comes out to protect her cub, and still other times there are those moments when Zannah tries to explain modern trends and phrases to her clueless and out-of-date parental unit.
Perhaps the most complex and provocative relationship in Perfect Little Children is the friendship between Beth and Flora. With flashbacks, readers become privy to the various high and low points inherent in every friendship. With their long-term dynamic on display, Sophie Hannah elucidates the many potential pitfalls and extreme bonding moments true friendship must endure and capitalize on, respectively…and how challenging that actually is when the rubber hits the road.
Perfect Little Children presents an impossible scenario to grab readers attention and then Sophie Hannah systematically dissects the situation to expose the one possible reality that allows for this inevitability to resonate in a genuine and credible manner. Witnessing how Sophie Hannah pulls this off is nothing short of unforgettable.
Disclaimer: A print galley of this title was provided to BOLO Books by the publisher. No review was promised and the above is an unbiased review of the novel.