In Gilly Macmillan’s thriller The Perfect Girl, Zoe is a piano prodigy and convicted killer, having been responsible for an accident which took the lives of several teenagers back when she was fourteen. The aftermath of that accident sent her to a juvenile detention center she refers to as the Unit, and is the jumping off point for the central mystery of the book.
Since the accident, Zoe and her mother Maria have started what Zoe thinks of as the Second Chance Life, with new stepfather Chris, Chris’s teenage son Lucas, and Zoe’s new baby sister Grace. After a disturbing encounter at a piano recital with the parent of one of Zoe’s victims, it comes to light that Chris is unaware of Zoe’s past, and after a tense domestic confrontation at home, Maria is found dead.
Except for an unnecessary narrator in the form of Zoe’s former lawyer, the pieces tie nicely together as Zoe’s aunt Tessa, her husband Richard, and Zoe pick up the threads of what really happened that night. A script by Lucas, Zoe’s stepbrother, ratchets up the suspense of what may have happened to her mom, and small character details reveal the more sinister heart of her mother’s second marriage. The most vivid and interesting scenes come as Maria prepares to evade, deny, and delay the inevitable confrontation with her husband Chris, and the author keeps us invested even beyond the central whodunnit as she unravels the fates of the main characters.