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by Jodi Picoult
Pocket Books, April 2002
352 pages
ISBN: 0743418727

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

Jodi Picoult (Songs of the Humpback Whale, Harvesting the Heart, Picture Perfect, Mercy, The Pact, Keeping Faith, Plain Truth, Salem Falls) prides herself on the painstaking research she undertakes for her novels. Certainly the legal and medical ferreting of facts she must have performed for this oeuvre is a credit to her. A former teacher, Picoult was first published when she was in college. This success generated her ambition to become a writer. She writes about family and relationships and it is the good fortune of her readers that she became a mother. She has a first hand experience of the unique, wrenching love of a mother for her child and so can incorporate that emotion into her books and, in turn, manipulate the emotions of those reading her work.

Perfect Match deals with a truly unpleasant subject: the sexual abuse of a child. The theme is made even more topical in these present times by scandals erupting almost daily about priests, both Roman Catholic and Protestant, who have taken advantage of their privileged position to gratify their own desires at the expense of a child's innocence .The actions of these perverts have almost always changed the paths of, and in many cases even ruined, the lives of the victims.

Nina Frost is an Assistant District Attorney who prosecutes child molesters. She feels totally frustrated and horrified as she daily sees the molesters of children walk away, at liberty to harm other children, simply because of the shortcomings of the legal system. To her horror, one day she discovers that her own child, five year-old Nathaniel, has become mute as a result of being raped. Initially suspicion falls on her husband and a restraining order is taken out on him but it soon becomes apparent that the malefactor is a priest. Nathaniel regains his voice and tells his mother's closest friend, Patrick, a policeman, the identity of the rapist.

At the arraignment of the family priest, Nina, distraught at the possibility that the priest may be freed and continue his predations, kills the suspect. The remainder of the book focuses on her trial and the effect of it on her son, her family and her friends.

Picoult exhibits a thorough understanding of the emotions motivating people. For parents, this book would be not only a cautionary tale but a horror story in the extreme. A lay person is more or less trained to trust her legal representative to achieve justice for her and retribution for any abuser. A.D.A. Nina knows retribution is unlikely, if not impossible, to be delivered against the accused. She finds herself in a moral dilemma and acts more as a desperate mother than as a rational prosecutor who respects the law.

The author introduces a nice forensic twist in the identification of the perpetrator. Her characterisation of Nina Frost is excellent. Those of Caleb Frost and Nina's friend Patrick are perhaps less convincing and I found her portrayal of Quentin Brown, the lawyer prosecuting Nina, to be on the wishy washy side. Nina's defence counsel Fisher Carrington, was barely sketched. There is sometimes a fine line separating drama from melodrama, too, and at times I felt the narrative approaching the latter rather too closely. Despite these shortcomings, I found the novel very moving.

Picoult's language is succinct, her dialogue natural and her court scenes involving. The pace of the book, too, was kept quite even. The dÈnouement of the plot is unexpected but satisfying. If you are a parent of a small child, be warned - read this book with care!

Editor¼s Note: This review was based on the Australian Edition

Published by ALLEN & UNWIN, ISBN 1865087173

Reviewed by Denise Wels, May 2002

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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