Title : The Perfect Suspect
Author : Vincent Varjavandi
Publisher : Longueville Media
Date Published : 2006
ISBN : 1920681191
Sub-Genre : Thriller
A quiet country town is usually the ideal destination for people looking to escape the horrors of the past. But in Vincent Varjavandi's debut thriller, The Perfect Suspect, sometimes evil is not quite that simple a thing to escape.
Senior Sergeant Jack Maguire is the commanding officer of the Sanctuary Police Station, a sleepy little coastal town on the New South Wales south coast, a place where nothing much ever happens. It's the kind of place that puts a guy like Maguire into an unsettled reverie.
He wasn't thrilled to admit it, but this morning had provided him with just about the most challenging problem for quite some time. He shook his head with that, trying to avoid another bout of reflection on the way things had panned out since being exiled here. It was an activity he'd spent a lot of time on recently. Either, he'd decided, because he was getting on in years and felt the need to take stock of his life, or more likely, as some kind of bizarre self-inflicted psychological punishment for the way he'd sat back and allowed his life and career to taper off into oblivion.He doesn't know it at this point but Maguire is about to enter a tumultuous period that will threaten to rip the until now peaceful town apart in the form of the most brutal of murders imaginable.
Working on a two week rotational basis at the Sanctuary hospital is young surgeon Tom Hackett. He has returned from a stint in the US where he worked at the New Orleans Children's Hospital. His return from America comes after his wife was murdered in their family home while he was at work at the hospital. In a bid to occupy any spare time he may have so that he is distracted from the grief over the loss of his wife, he is using the job in Sanctuary to seek what the place is named for.
Unfortunately, this will prove to be the last thing he will find.
First one woman and then a second is murdered, savagely beaten to death with a frying pan, the blows numbering more than 100. In both cases the attacker was invited into his victim's home using 8 year old Laura Roberts as a means of winning their trust.
The second victim was Tom Hackett's secretary and, seeing as he was the last known person to see her before she was killed, he is brought in and questioned by Maguire and his young partner William Tucker. At this point the story gets a little interesting because we learn that Jack Maguire is blessed (or cursed) with an unexplainable ability to accurately read other people's body language and is able to perceive with a high level of accuracy when someone is lying to him. His inability to explain how he does it has gotten him into trouble in the past, indeed, it's the reason he is a small-town cop rather than a big-city homicide detective. After his interview with Tom Hackett he's sure that Hackett is not the killer. His young partner is not as easily convinced and requests that he be allowed to do a little more digging to which Maguire reluctantly agrees.
What follows is a steady build up of damning evidence against Dr Tom Hackett that paints him as a stone-cold killer who has embarked on a spree of slaying that began with his wife. It's only the belief that Jack Maguire has in Hackett's innocence that prevents his immediate arrest. Unfortunately, the only leg Maguire has to stand on is his gut instinct and even he is beginning to doubt it.
The Perfect Suspect begins as a tight psychological thriller that appears to be told along the usual lines where a killer will pick off his victims until our protagonist tracks him down. But this is no ordinary psychological thriller and it soon blossoms out into a much more complex thriller that becomes increasingly confrontational.
The book is imbued with a certain exasperation that builds as the story unfolds emanating through the persona of Jack Maguire. Although certain that Tom Hackett is no killer, he is so riddled with self-doubt that he cannot force himself to convince his partner of the fact. Consequently there is an inevitability about where his hesitancy will take things.
For Tom Hackett's part, his role is that of a victim. The compelling question is why he was chosen to take the blame for the killings. The answer proves to come hidden inside a much more elaborate set up than could ever be imagined. The establishment of the personalities of the characters taking part in proceedings cannot be faulted, having been provided with just the right level of modesty to make them sympathetic yet with a broad streak of capability so that their reactions to various situations are believable. The only weak aspect to the book that I could find was a lack of atmosphere surrounding the setting of the town of Sanctuary. Normally you would get a real sense of small-town community about a country town with a local busybody, most people knowing everyone else, etc. There was absolutely none of this in the case of Sanctuary and I felt the tone of the story suffered as a result. The Perfect Suspect proves to be a compelling thriller with a hidden complexity that plays out to a resounding finale. It's a tightly plotted story that will run you through the gamut of extreme emotional responses.