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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction


Walter Satterthwait

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To purchase Perfection

Title: Perfection
Author: Walter Satterthwait
Genre: Novel
Written: (2003) (Eng. 2006)
Length: 327 pages
Availability: Perfection - US
Perfection - UK
Perfection - Canada
Scherenschnitte - Deutschland
  • Though written in English, Perfection was originally published in German translation (in 2003), several years before an English-language edition came out (in 2006)

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Our Assessment:

B : solid police procedural, but some big missed opportunities

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Publishers Weekly . 28/11/2005 .

  From the Reviews:
  • "The book's dialogue serves the needs of the plot, but the characters are pretty much clichés. (...) The narrative hurtles along smoothly if unpleasantly until the end, when a plot twist that requires far too much suspension of disbelief stops the story in its tracks, calling into question the entire novel and leaving the reader feeling more than a little cheated." - Publishers Weekly

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       Although a well-established mystery writer by this time in his career, Walter Satterthwait's Perfection apparently did not readily find a US publisher when he completed it, appearing in translation in Germany -- where he seems to have found a greater following -- in 2003 before finally coming out in English in 2006. It's possible the crimes in this police procedural left American publishers leery of taking it on; the scene of the first murder is described in close and gory detail, at considerable length, as the detectives arriving on the scene inspect it, and that detail is truly horrific. That the murderer preys on very fat women -- Wibble-Wobbles, as he calls them when scoping out new victims -- and ... pares them down to size in his murder-ritual maybe also have had something to do with it, the fear perhaps being that this was hitting way too close to home in weight-obsessed America.
       The murders -- or rather what is done with the bodies -- is appalling, reminiscent of some of the carnage in Jeff Lindsay's Dexter-novels (Darkly Dreaming Dexter, etc.); as it happens, the locale here is also Florida (what is it about Florida ?). Small consolation: the instances of murder remain few.
       A Prologue briefly reveals the murderer toying (rather harmlessly, for the moment) with his first (known) victim, before the novel turns to the two detectives who are called to the scene a few hours later, after the killer has ... had his way with the victim. Perfection is then basically a detailed police procedural, following detectives James Fallon and Sophia Tregaskis as they investigate the crime. The story does, however, also repeatedly shift, with quick chapters that show what the killer -- soon identified by name as Robert -- is up to, too.
       Fallon and Tregaskis are a bit of an odd fit. Partners now for just three weeks, Tregaskis is still relatively new to the job: she's only twenty-six, and been on the force for two years; she hasn't even ever fired her gun. (This is a nice realistic touch -- a recent survey found that only 27% of all officers reported having ever fired their gun on duty -- but mention of this also is part of the general weakness of the novel: Satterthwait gives in way too easily to the lazy demand of Chekhov's gun, leaving little doubt that Tregaskis will, by the end, have fired her gun ..... (Spoiler: she does.)) Fallon is almost twice her age, worn down by years as a New York City cop and personal tragedy and having taken a position here in quiet Florida barrier island St.Anselm imagining work, at least, would be easier to handle. They still circle one another a bit warily, but they're both professionals -- except maybe for Fallon's too-ready reach for the bottle --, and if Tregaskis is still a bit inexperienced, she's smart and capable, which Fallon recognizes and appreciates.
       The first victim, killed in her home, is the very sizeable Marcy Fleming -- well over three hundred pounds. The killer was messy in his treatment of her, but meticulous otherwise, not leaving a trace (ironically, this then is one of the things that helps them identify him) beyond some (less helpful, as they are meant to be) obviously staged clues: a piece of fried meat on a plate, an indentation on the bed. The dress the victim had been wearing is also missing -- presumably taken as a trophy.
       The investigation is pretty much Fallon and Tregaskis' show -- though an FBI profiler eventually is called in too. Among the others who are drawn into the periphery of the investigation are a local therapist whom Marcy had had an appointment with the week before, Eva Swanson. Marcy had taken part in a seminar on weight control that Marcy had attended, and they had later set up an appointment, but they hadn't gotten beyond an introductory session. Then there's TV news reporter Dave Bondwell, who gets to know Tregaskis while covering the case and asks her out; the different pulls of the professional and personal quickly make this somewhat problematic, as the police are interested in film footage from the TV station which he might be able to help them with, and then with the discovery that he just happened to be present at the weight loss seminar Marcy attended .....
       Tregaskis also tends towards the overweight, and Robert is soon taking a greater interest in her. Meanwhile, Fallon seems to be overcoming his psychologist-issues -- as Dr. Swanson immediately recognized, he had a bad experience with one -- and finds himself intrigued by this Eva.
       The killer is soon identified as one Robert Ambrose -- with readers already have been let into the mind of this 'Robert' behind the crimes -- but though they have a name, the police have very little else to go on. There's barely a trace of him, going back very far; when they find his mother, it becomes even more obvious that he is one very sick puppy -- but clues as to his whereabouts and what he has been up to all these remain few and far between. As readers know, from the Robert sections, he has documents in another name; the fact that he also keeps appearing practically under their noses -- at the press conferences and others assemblies -- suggests he is (correctly) very sure of not too readily being identified .....
       Swanson notes that they can't even dismiss the idea that he might be a transsexual, but given how little they know about him -- and how blind they are to the obvious ... -- that doesn't help them any more than the few other clues they can piece together. As is, they're stretched awfully thin, not even sure about how to protect the local population -- they're still guessing as to how he picks out his victims, and how he gains access to their houses (as there's no evidence of forced entry at the victim's homes). On top of it all, a hurricane is bearing down on St.Anselm .....
       Fallon and Tregaskis head off to Sarasota, to dig up information about long-lost Robert Ambrose -- taking separate cars, to be able to cover more ground (and leaving each on their own ...). Naturally, the weather gets worse and worse as they proceed. Fallon heads home earlier, but Tregaskis keeps digging -- but is out of touch and out of reach when she pieces it together and comes to the awful realization of just who Robert Ambrose is .....
       Satterthwait does the whole police procedural bit very well. The scenes at the crime scenes are top notch -- if grisly. The handling of the tortured police officers -- a worn out Fallon feeling all the weight of these few decades of professional and personal experiences, while a young Tregaskis still struggles with some insecurities -- are pretty good, too, if a bit too simple-obvious in outline, and the police department as a whole is well-presented. And Satterthwait is good with some of the off-beat incidentals -- characters and observations along the way.
       Perfection does come with a big 'twist' -- though at least to this reader it seemed telegraphed so loud and clear, from early on, that it didn't come as much of a surprise. It's not the worst idea -- but Satterthwait does fall far short in making it a satisfactory sort of resolution: despite the interspersed scenes revealing bits and pieces of present-day Robert, there's simply not enough about his past and what made him into who he now is. The police-procedural format means readers only learn what the police do (except for those brief glimpses of present-day Robert), and ultimately the police only have so much to show for it -- enough to know exactly who their man is, and, in rough outline, what brought him here, but nothing more. It's too bad, because Robert's story sounds like an interesting one, and it would have been helpful to see more of it (as well as that of his chief enabler, an interesting-sounding figure in her own right). It's this failure -- and some of the too easy attempts to create some tension -- the storm, getting worse and worse as they get closer and closer ... (I mean, come on ...). -- that leave Perfection rather far from the title-mark.
       (Multiply) open-ended, Perfection had the makings of the beginnings of a series, and Fallon and Tregaskis certainly would have been a solid pair to build it up on, but presumably the book's fate -- it doesn't seem to have done very well -- sealed theirs, making for a one-and-done standalone.
       Leaving aside the very vivid gore -- definitely not for everyone --, Perfection is certainly a mostly enjoyable and at times very well written police procedural. Satterthwait does take the easy way out a bit too often -- the storm ? really ? -- and there's a big missed opportunity in not making more of the killer (and what made him into the monster he now is), so Perfection is certainly skippable, but mystery fans will probably find enough here -- especially in the writing and some of the (crime-)scenes -- to come away reasonably satisfied.

- M.A.Orthofer, 22 November 2020

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Perfection: Reviews: Walter Satterthwait: Other books by Walter Satterthwait under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       American author Walter Satterthwait lived 1946 to 2020.

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