The Perfect Sinner
Here is the stuff of soap operas of old. Penny Jordan has given us the Crightons, a large, wealthy, dysfunctional British family, and she is painstakingly writing her way through them, couple by couple. The Perfect Sinner continues the saga in a book that combines uneven pacing with distasteful characters and an abrupt “To Be Continued”-style ending.
The story opens from the point of view of Max Crighton, the black sheep of the family. Max is too despicable for words, a womanizer who lives only for himself, and has a wide streak of cruelty as well. Even his family, other than his grandfather, dislike him, and the first half of the book is devoted to detailing his horrendous behavior toward his wife and his two young children.
Next we meet Maddy, Max’s wife, who is a plain-Jane doormat, adored and pitied by the rest of Max’s family. Max married her only because her father’s influence as a barrister allowed Max to land an appointment to one of the most prestigious chambers in the country. She detests Max, but cannot resist him sexually, and this only adds to her shame and misery. Maddy has absolutely no self-esteem or confidence, and is just enduring life as she cares for Max’s invalid grandfather and her children and avoids Max as much as possible.
In addition, there is a long list of other Crighton family members, many of whom readers following this family will doubtless recognize, and who are present here to add their points of view to the situation between Max and Maddy, as well as bits and pieces of their own dysfunctional pathos.
This book almost entirely consists of people mulling over family history and their opinions of other members of the family, especially pity for Maddy and censure for Max. Actual events are rare, and I don’t feel free to describe much for fear that what little suspense exists will be given away. Suffice it to say that in addition to anti-hero Max, a second hero, Griff, arises in the middle of the book to bring Maddy to life as she falls in love. The last half of the book details her own metamorphosis, as well as that of Max, as old family wrongs begin to be righted. The pacing is abruptly uneven, with the first half of the book moving excruciatingly slowly, but in the second half, important emotional developments are glossed over as the events speed by, and the reader is informed of them almost in retrospect.
I was turned off by a number of things in this book, the pacing being only one of them. I do not consider adultery to be compatible with a noble, moral character, even when it is supposedly justified by the person being married to a heel. Maddy’s behavior with Griff is just that, even though they do not actually consummate the deed. Immediately following their first meeting, inappropriate protestations of love and desire are made, and while Max is just too evil to be believed and Griff is presented as the exact opposite, I still found the relationship between Maddy and Griff distasteful. As stated, actual sexual consummation does not happen, but the reader gets to endure detailed mental fantasy from both characters which is just as bad. The resolution of this and other story problems is a bit simplistic, and Max’s transformation calls for a suspension of disbelief that pushes the limits. The ending is abrupt, and leaves the reader less than satisfied.
This was my first glimpse into the dreary world of the Crightons, and I cannot say I am anticipating a second.