Title: The Perfect Family
Author: Shalini Boland
Genre: Psychological Thriller
Format: Kindle ARC
No. of Pages: 284 Pages
Date of Publication: November 6, 2018
My Rating: 5 Stars
‘Mummy, she’s gone…’
Gemma Ballantine is getting ready for work one morning when her eldest child comes running down the stairs, saying the words every mother dreads.
The front door is open. And her six-year-old daughter has disappeared. Frantic with fear, Gemma starts a nail-biting search for her little girl.
After what feels like forever, her mother-in-law Diane finds Katie wandering lost a few streets away. Relieved to have her youngest child back in her arms, breathing in the sweet scent of her hair, Gemma thinks the nightmare is over.
But then her perfect family starts to fall apart.
And she realises it’s only just beginning…
From the top ten bestselling author of The Secret Mother and The Child Next Door, this completely addictive psychological thriller of secrets, lies and betrayal will make you gasp out loud at the heart-stopping final twist. If you loved Gone Girl, The Girl on the Train and The Sister this book is for you.
Gemma Ballantine’s car was defaced with the words “bad mother” Her daughter is suspended from school. Her house key doesn’t work. If only those were the worst things Gemma was dealing with, then maybe she could have worked things out. But, no, it was much, much more. How did it all begin?
Gemma’s six-year-old daughter Katie has seemingly disappeared into thin air. This happens just before Gemma was to take Katie and her sister Eva to school. After frantically searching for several moments, Gemma heads to her car to look some more. However, she hears the voice of her mother-in-law and suddenly sees the tear-stained face of little Katie! Where was she? Why was Katie with her grandmother?
Gemma’s perfect little family may just be beginning to unravel. Before the reader is even able to see the drama unfold, another perspective is presented. This is by an unnamed narrator. As always with stories delivered by multiple points of view, many questions immediately begin to pop up.
Gemma is a busy wife and mother. She has a very demanding job and in some ways it is interfering with her family. She has been pressured by her mother-in-law to hire a nanny. It has come up before, but now more than ever. Would hiring a nanny to take the load off help Gemma so that she doesn’t doubt herself as a mother so much?
While Gemma is trying to sort things out, she has a critical business meeting. As if things weren’t interesting enough up until this point, there was a particular scene that made me say aloud, “Oh Snap!” That is the vein in which this story is delivered. Shocker after shocker.
As if my attention wasn’t riveted enough in this absolutely thrilling story by Shalini Boland, let me tell you that I literally could not put this book down. It kind of reminded me of a snowball being rolled down a hill. Well, what happens? The snowball gets bigger and bigger. Well, in comparison, this story gets better and better. At this point I felt like I was about to put the pieces of a 1,000 piece puzzle together.
Needless to say, not only is this book full of twists and turns, but boy, are the red herrings incredibly well thought out. All I can say at this point is that I was wrong in my guesses. Every. Time. Yes. Wrong. Wrong. Wrong. Well done Shalini Boland!
Run - do not walk - and get your copy of The Perfect Family. I have recommended many psychological thrillers this year. This is definitely one of them. Yes, indeed, this book is most certainly one of my favorites. This is the second book that I’ve read by the author, and I rated it 5 Stars as I did this one.
PLEASE ENJOY THE FOLLOWING EXCERPT:
I gaze through the kitchen window. A gust of wind shakes the sepia leaves on the grapevine twisting across the pergola. A sparrow hops lightly along the rattan sun lounger. It’s so pretty. So domestic. So perfect.
Sometimes I forget myself. I let myself relax and believe that everything is okay.
But it’s never okay.
And I can never relax.
Strange – I don’t remember seeing the front door open when I came down earlier. I peer outside, frown and push it closed with a click.
‘Girls! Come on, get your shoes on, we’re going to be late!’
Moments later, my ten-year-old daughter Eva bounds down the stairs, her caramel hair tied back off her face in a ponytail.
‘Is your sister ready too?’ I ask.
‘Katie!’ I yell up the stairs, but there’s no reply. I sigh. My six-year-old is such a little dreamer. I kiss Eva’s forehead. ‘Can you run back up and tell Katie to get a wriggle on?’
Eva does as I ask while I slide my feet into two-inch heels and check my reflection in the hall mirror. I have an important meeting this morning with a potential new client. I need to look professional and I absolutely cannot be late. The school run must go like clockwork.
‘She’s not in her room,’ Eva says, reappearing in the hallway.
‘Try the bathroom.’ I smooth my eyebrows and turn away from the mirror.
‘I looked. She’s not there either. Or in my room.’
‘She’s not up there,’ Eva interrupts, a look of panic darting across her face. ‘I even looked under the beds and in the wardrobes in case she was hiding.’
‘Katie!’ I begin marching through the downstairs rooms of our shabby Victorian fixer-upper that we’ve never quite managed to fix up, with its draughty hallway and rattling windows. My husband Robert and I had such grand designs for this place when we bought it. Maybe it’ll happen one day. My heels tip-tap across the stripped floorboards as I search the lounge, the kitchen, utility room, dining room, the downstairs loo… but there’s no sign of my youngest daughter. Back in the hallway, I freeze, remembering the previously open front door. Katie is a curious child. With a stab of pure terror, I think of the busy main road beyond the driveway and my skin goes cold. ‘Eva, check upstairs again –look in every single room.’
‘I already did that.’
‘I know, but can you do it again?’ As I bark out instructions to Eva, I’m almost falling over myself to reach the front door.
‘Mum, are you okay? What are you doing?’
‘I’m fine,’ I cry, but my heart has suddenly started beating like a machine gun. As Eva disappears back upstairs, I wrench open the front door and step out onto our driveway, scanning the small front garden as rush-hour traffic thunders past beyond the hedge. The sky is clear and blue, but there’s a nip of autumn in the air, a damp chill that makes me shiver. I weave between our two cars, checking my youngest daughter is not hiding behind either of them. Then I call Katie’s name and stare blindly around, trying to keep calm, but it’s plain to see she’s not out here. Shaking away images of cars screeching to a halt and my daughter’s little body tossed up over a car bonnet, I stride down onto the pavement and peer up and down the road, praying that I’ll catch sight of her. But there’s no sign, and despite her absent-mindedness, she surely wouldn’t leave the safety of our driveway. I’ve told her enough times that the road is dangerous. But she’s not out here, so she must be back in the house. She has to be.
Back inside, I check the downstairs rooms once again with Eva at my side. Katie’s not in any of them. Perhaps she went into the back garden for some reason. I ask Eva to keep searching the house while I go into the utility room and try the back door. It’s locked and the key is still on the hook, so it’s highly unlikely Katie is out there. But maybe she went out of the front door and then came around the side of the house, distracted by something or other. I slip the keys off the hook and open the back door, stand on the threshold scanning the garden –the mossy patio, the overgrown rectangle of grass, the fruit trees at the back, and the ramshackle, sage-green summer house.
‘Katie!’ I cry, my voice disappearing into the still morning air. ‘Katie! Are you out here? Time to go!’ I cross the stone patio and step onto the grass, my heels sinking into the soft earth. ‘We’re going to be late for school!’ My voice is definitely wobbly now, but I’m determined not to let my mind jump ahead again and imagine the worst. I make my way across the dew-soaked lawn to the summer house, try the door –it’s locked –and peer through one of the windows. Empty. Just the kids’ bikes and some gardening equipment.
‘Hello, Gemma, everything okay?’
I snap my head round to see my retired neighbour’s round face peering at me over the garden fence. ‘Sherry, hi. I don’t suppose you’ve seen Katie? I can’t seem to find her…’ I give a short laugh to show that I’m not really worried. But I don’t know why I did that because I am really worried. I make my way back down the lawn towards her.
Sherry frowns. ‘No, sorry. I’ll go in and ask Paul. I take it she’s not in the house then?’
I shake my head and bite my lip.
‘I’m sure she won’t have gone far.’
I gasp and look up, hopeful that it’s Katie. But it’s Eva standing by the back door, white-faced. ‘Did you find her?’ she asks.
‘Not yet, darling, but she’s got to be around here somewhere.’ My voice sounds hollow and bright.
‘Maybe she went to school on her own,’ Eva suggests.
I turn as Sherry clears her throat discreetly behind me. ‘Let me know if you need any help looking. And try not to worry. I’m sure she’ll turn up any minute.’
‘Thanks, Sherry. I appreciate it.’ I step off the grass, take Eva’s hand and we go back inside. ‘This is ridiculous,’ I mutter. ‘She can’t have just disappeared.’ I turn to Eva with another thought. ‘She’s probably hiding. You know how much she loves to play hide and seek. Let’s check the house again. Have a proper scout around.’ I stomp up the stairs, calling Katie’s name. Eva follows, and I try to keep my panic in check. I don’t want her to see how freaked out I’m becoming. It’s already been five minutes since I first realised Katie was missing.
‘Where is she, Mum? Is she going to be okay?’
‘Of course,’ I reply, trying to keep my voice from trembling. ‘Katie!’ I yell. ‘It’s not funny any more. We’re going to be late for school. Come on!’ I march into her bedroom, the floor a tangled mess of cuddly toys and discarded clothes. What I would give to see her lounging around on her bed right now. Her PJs are strewn across her pillow, her favourite book left open –everything looks so normal.
I crouch down and look under the bed, even though Eva said she’d already checked. But Katie’s not there. It’s just an empty black space. If only I had been paying more attention to her this morning instead of spending ages getting myself ready. I shouldn’t have taken my eyes off her for a second. But we’re at home. Surely we should be safe here. How can she have vanished into thin air? Robert and I are always in a rush, always doing a million things at once. Right now, he’s out with his regular Tuesday-morning client. He’s a personal trainer and works odd hours so, between the two of us, looking after the girls always manages to end up a messy and unpredictable affair with one or the other of us getting stressed and running late.
I get to my feet again and run my fingers through my short hair, not caring that I’m messing up the careful style that took me ages to perfect earlier.
‘Mum?’ Eva stares up at me. ‘Mum, where is she? I’m scared.’ Her eyes start to pool with tears.
I’m scared too. I take my precious daughter’s hand in both of mine. ‘Don’t worry. Don’t cry, she’s fine. I’m sure she’ll show up any second, and we’ll give her a big fat hug and tell her off for scaring us senseless.’
I’ve looked everywhere. It can’t be more than ten minutes since I first found she was missing, but it already feels like hours. If she’s not in the house she must have gone out the front door. But I already looked on the driveway and on the road beyond. There was no sign of her. She wouldn’t have run off, would she? Did she go out of her own accord?
Or did somebody take her?
I shiver at the sickening thought. Suddenly the seriousness of the situation slams into me like a truck. My normal life has turned into every mother’s nightmare in a matter of moments. I rush into my bedroom, kick off my muddy high heels, slip on some trainers, hitch up my skirt and run down the stairs.
‘Mum! What are you doing?’ Eva cries as I yank open the front door. ‘Where are you going?’
‘Stay in the house!’ I yell back. ‘I won’t be long. I’m going to look for your sister!’ Every second matters now. It could be the difference between finding Katie… and not.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Shalini Boland lives in Dorset, England with her husband, two sons and their cheeky poodle-terrier cross. Before kids, she was signed to Universal Music Publishing as a singer/songwriter, but now she spends her days writing suspense thrillers (in between school runs and hanging out endless baskets of laundry).
Her debut psychological thriller The Girl from the Sea published in June 2016 reached Number 1 in the US Audible charts. Her second thriller The Best Friend published in October 2016 reached a high of number 10 in Amazon's UK Kindle charts. It also achieved number 1 in all its categories and was a Kindle All Star title for several months in a row.