Lisa Gardner

The Perfect Husband

Winner of the 1998 Reviewer’s Choice Award

Jim Beckett was everything she’d ever dreamed of. But two years after Tess married the decorated cop and bore his child, she helped put him behind bars for savagely murdering ten women. Even locked up in a maximum security prison, he vowed he would come after her and make her pay. Now the cunning killer has escaped-and the most dangerous game of all begins…

After a lifetime of fear, Tess will do something she’s never done before. She’s going to learn to protect her daughter and fight back, with the help of a burned-out ex-marine. As the largest manhunt four states have ever seen mobilizes to catch Beckett, the clock winds down to the terrifying reunion between husband and wife. And Tess knows that this time, her only choices are to kill-or be killed.

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A dark, powerful tale of nerve-shattering suspense.” – Tami Hoag

“A streamlined bang-up addition to the oeuvre of Tami Hoag, Karen Robards, Elizabeth Powell and, these days, even Nora Roberts.” – Publishers Weekly

“A chilling story of revenge and betrayal, with one of the creepiest villains I’ve ever read.” – Iris Johansen , New York Times -bestselling author of THE UGLY DUCKLING

“An unforgettably evil villain and a throat-gripping climax make THE PERFECT HUSBAND a real page-turner!” – Tess Gerritsen , New York Times -bestselling author of Harvest

“I loved this book! I was up till 2 a.m. finishing it!” – Karen Robards, New York Times bestselling author of WALKING AFTER MIDNIGHT and HUNTER’S MOON

“Nail-biting suspense … a taut roller coaster of a story that kept me up very, very late.” – Kay Hooper, nationally bestselling author of AMANDA and AFTER CAROLINE

“A superlative read, with vivid characters, faultless procedure, and a villain who will whisper in the dark evertime you turn off the light.” – Eileen Dreyer, nationally bestselling author of BRAIN DEAD

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Discussion Questions/FAQs

Warning: Please be advised that if you haven’t read the book, you may want to stop here since there are spoilers in the question.

The following questions have been used by book discussion groups in the past to study THE PERFECT HUSBAND. Many thanks to Jackie, Maria, Dana and Terese for sharing this list of questions with other book clubs. Also, please be advised that if you haven’t read the book, you may want to stop here since there are spoilers in the questions.

  1. Do you think the romantic relationship between Tess and J.T. was believable or forced?
  2. Did the suspense have you on the edge of your seat? Why?
  3. What did you think of Tess? J.T.?
  4. Did you want to know why Jim Beckett became a serial killer?
  5. Did you think Tess should have known that Jim was a killer?
  6. What message did you think Jim Beckett was writing in bodies?
  7. Why do you think Jim mutilated his victim’s hands?
  8. Did you guess that Martha and Jim Beckett were the same person?
  9. What was your reaction to Marion’s character being murdered? Do you think this was a necessary evil, or an unnecessary death?
  10. Do you think Marion’s husband should have suspected that she had unresolved issues?
  11. Did you want to know what happened to Freddie?
  12. Do you think that J.T. could have achieved closure by going to see his father?
  13. Were there any memorable lines?
  14. Do you think THE PERFECT HUSBAND was an appropriate title? If no, then what title would you have given it? If yes, why?
  15. Was this your first book by Lisa Gardner? If so, will you read other books by her?

What was the basis for THE PERFECT HUSBAND?
Ann Rule’s THE STRANGER BESIDE ME, her biography of Ted Bundy, also inspired this book. I’m fascinated by the notion that Bundy had several “normal” relationships in his life, with women who looked shockingly close to his victim type. It just makes you wonder. What made him view some women as prey and other women as potential girlfriends? The level of mental compartmentalization he must have been able to do to lead both lives simultaneously-lover, killer-is unbelievable.

From that impetus, I developed Tess’s story, a meek woman with an abusive past who appears to be the perfect wife for a cold, domineering killer. Except there’s more to Tess than meets the eye. She’s young, she’s scared, but she’s also motivated by her child to make something more out of her life, to be a better person. So she slowly but surely develops the backbone to challenge her husband … and sets in a motion a chain of events that could cost her her life.

J.T. Dillon is by far your darkest hero. What led you to create him?
J.T. created himself. I wanted someone with the physical prowess and emotional intensity to rival Jim Beckett, a serial killer who had preyed upon even the police. Then I started playing around with this notion of rage-that if killers are driven by rage, then someone capable of catching a killer would also need rage. Jim Beckett’s anger was cold, however, whereas J.T.’s anger is red hot. In the novel, the heroine Tess recognizes the violence and menace inside J.T. She is comforted by it, however, because his anger seems real to her, whereas Jim Beckett’s is eerie and unnatural.

J.T.’s anger stems from the fact that he does want a better life and better relationship with his sister. Jim Beckett’s anger, on the other hand, simply exists as a vast, dark well of destruction.

This is an extremely violent book. Was that difficult?
Originally, the book wasn’t very violent. My editor’s first comment, however, was that for a serial killer, Jim Beckett wasn’t scary enough. So things escalated from there. Serial killer books are very common, so if you’re going to do one, you might as well go all the way.

You killed off J.T.’s sister, though. Was that really necessary?
Marion was always slated to die, unfortunately. In my opinion, she was too brittle to ever come to terms with what her father had done to her. And as long as she was alive, I thought J.T. would be unable to move forward-he would be too busy trying to make amends to her. So I felt that for there to be a truly happy ending in this novel, Marion had to go. Then J.T. could finally get on with his life.

Readers, on the other hand, have their own opinion on the subject. I’ve definitely received some hate mail.

If you were to write the book all over again, would you do it differently?

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Instinct To Kill movie based upon The Perfect Husband

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Bantam Dell
Paperback December 1, 1997
Cover Art © 1998 Alan Ayers

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