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Thursday 25 February 2021

‘The Perfect Father’ by Charlotte Duckworth

Published by Quercus,
18 February 2021.
ISBN: 978-1-52940-8-30-0 (PB)

If something looks too good to be true, it probably is. A cliché, perhaps, but clichés usually become clichés only because they’re true.

From the outset Robin Morgan appears to be the perfect father to baby Riley, and that apparently allows his wife Esther to have the perfect life. He is happy to put his career on hold to be a stay-at-home dad while she pursues hers, enabling her to keep all three of them in reasonable comfort. Until the day she arrives home to find Robin and Riley gone, their passports missing, and just a single word in a text message by way of explanation: Sorry.

But of course, their life wasn’t as perfect as it seemed. As the police investigate and Esther looks back over the previous three years, the story begins to resemble the layers of an onion, peeling away one by one, an effect which is underlined by the alternating viewpoint narration. It’s impossible to say any more about this tense, intricately plotted novel without giving away spoiler after spoiler; suffice to say there’s a new surprise on almost every other page, right up to the final shocking twist which comes just when you think it’s all over.

For anyone who has read Charlotte Duckworth’s previous work, though, it’s no surprise at all to find not only that well-paced, complex story, but also a cast of characters who live and breathe in a world you could step into and recognize instantly. Robin is outgoing to the point of ebullience, but with an edge which suggests an underlying streak of vulnerability and almost too much eagerness to please. Esther is the sensible one, hardworking, passionate and confident about her career in charity administration, but less self-assured at home. Her friend Vivienne is warm and caring, but outspokenly honest to the point of bluntness. Robin’s parents are more two-dimensional, he dismissive and disparaging, she mousy and cautious. Riley is as cute and adorable as a toddler ought to be. And then there’s Kim, who is something of an enigma.

It’s not really a spoiler to say there are medical conditions described in uncomfortable detail, all germane to the plot. And accounts of parties and domestic detail all add to the rich texture of the background.

It’s a novel that demands to be read at a sitting, or two at the most, but after you’ve raced through it to find out what’s really going on and how it all ends, it will stay with you. Charlotte Duckworth is a name that deserves to be known more widely in her chosen field of domestic noir. Perhaps The Perfect Father will make that happen.
Reviewer: Lynne Patrick

Charlotte Duckworth has spent the past fifteen years working as an interiors and lifestyle journalist, writing for a wide range of consumer magazines and websites. She lives in Surrey with her partner and their young daughter. You can find out more on her website.


Lynne Patrick has been a writer ever since she could pick up a pen, and has enjoyed success with short stories, reviews and feature journalism, but never, alas, with a novel. She crossed to the dark side to become a publisher for a few years and is proud to have launched several careers which are now burgeoning. She lives in Oxfordshire in a house groaning with books, about half of them crime fiction.


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