John Saul has been a fixture on the horror and psychological
thriller scene since 1976. Books like SUFFER THE CHILDREN and THE
MANHATTAN HUNT CLUB have garnered for him a modicum of respect and
notoriety; he has averaged a book a year for almost 30 years now.
It accordingly is somewhat surprising that at a point when most
other writers would have either hung up their spurs or phoned in
their work, Saul has produced what is arguably his best work to
There is a subtle air of quiet menace that hangs over PERFECT
NIGHTMARE from practically the first paragraph. Steve Marshall, the
beneficiary of a job promotion, is preparing to move his family
from Long Island to Manhattan. The familiar relocation problems
that are part and parcel of such a move provide a backdrop --- and
camouflage --- for a stalker who is plotting the kidnapping of
Lindsay, the family's teenage daughter. Mother Kara's sense of
uneasy but unspecified foreboding is pooh-poohed by the rest of the
family until, alas, it is too late.
The novel's point of view, however, isn't limited to that of the
uprooted and distraught family. Saul intersperses the Marshalls'
reactions to the humdrum and nightmarish with commentary from the
stalker as well, from failure to success. Saul then takes things a
bit further, placing four suspects under a literary microscope
while at the same time examining Lindsay's escape attempts and
doling out, piecemeal, the "why" of the stalker's actions.
It is this latter element that ultimately makes PERFECT NIGHTMARE
worth reading. In lesser hands this would be ghoulish
entertainment, and nothing more. But Saul has honed his craft to
the point where everyone is convincingly a suspect with the
absolute worst of motives.
Saul has never written badly, but his more recent work,
particularly of the past five years, has been possessed of the
brilliance promised in the beginning and middle points of his
career. If you haven't read him lately, now would be the time to
return, and PERFECT NIGHTMARE would be the perfect place to start.
Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on January 17, 2011