Summary: It’s their daughter’s graduation and Rachel and Ed Hartley are expecting it to be one of their family’s happiest days. But when she stumbles and falls on stage during the ceremony, a beautiful moment turns to chaos: Gemma has been shot, and just like that, she’s fighting for her life. PI Matthew Hill is one of the first on the scene. A cryptic message Gemma received earlier in the day suggests someone close to her was about to be exposed. But who? As Matthew starts to investigate, he finds more and more layers obscuring the truth. He even begins to suspect the Hartleys are hiding something big—from him and from each other. While Gemma lies in hospital in a coma, her would-be killer is still out there. Can Matthew unravel the family’s secrets before the attacker strikes again?
Genre: thriller, mystery
Her Perfect Family fits cozily on the domestic thriller shelf right between authors like Tarryn Fisher and Shari Lapena. It checks all the boxes here: it’s told in alternating perspectives between the PI, each member of the Hartley family, and, seemingly most importantly, a mysterious person who is our alleged killer; the story focuses heavily on the personal lives of the characters instead of the actual crime procedural.
So is Her Perfect Family good? It checks all the boxes, which will easily draw in readers who already enjoy the genre. I just don’t know that it stands out from others on the shelf.
I will say that I enjoy stories told in alternating POV chapters, because it not only breaks the story up and moves it along faster, but also because I always feel more attached to the characters because I feel like I get to truly know them. However, I don’t know that I can say that about this story. Gemma is in a coma for most of the book, but we get hidden journal entries from her to help discover what really happened to her. These entries are generally pretty shallow and never give us any depth into who Gemma is as a person. We know the choices she’s made and the outcome of them, but I felt zero empathy toward her situation (which was literally getting shot at her graduation, so I think this says a lot about the book), because by the end of the story she still felt like a stranger to me.
Gemma’s parents are a similar story. Her mother’s big secret is that she had an abusive childhood, but again, I never felt the depth here to truly feel sorry for her. Gemma’s father has bigger secrets, but I was so shocked by them because they weren’t realistic. In what world can you be previously married to someone who is mentally unstable, and you never bring them up, which is perfectly okay because your new wife will never ask questions or pester you about who you were before you met, which is a result of her childhood trauma? Honestly, go to therapy.
The PI, Matthew, is arguably the favorite character here, which isn’t exactly a difficult achievement. His story isn’t even all that interesting either, but we need someone to move the plot along. However, I was disappointed that this wasn’t as much a police procedural as I would have wanted. The story focuses so much more on the personal problems that everyone has, including Matthew’s. I would have preferred more actual police/detective work, considering how extreme the situation was.
The big reveal here came completely out of left field while simultaneously being predictable. A key to well-written thriller is that you generally do not just throw the killer in as a random, suspicious side character too early on with enough red flags all over them to raise alarm. I was both not surprised and shocked that the author chose to go that route, because it felt too easy.
I also felt like all the action finally happened in the last 30 pages of the book, but there was very little resolution to any of it. The story ends with a big bang, and the epilogue chapter, set a few months in the future, gives us some answers, but leaves a lot of questions too.