The Perfect Couple by Elin Hilderbrand (Little, Brown, 2018)


Who is “the perfect couple”in Elin Hilderbrand’s novel The Perfect Couple. Is it Greer Garrison Winbury, famous mystery author, and her husband, Tag, the owners of the Summerland estate on Nantucket? Is it the Winbury’s son, Benji and his beautiful fiancé, Celeste Otis? Is it Celeste’s parents, Karen and Bruce? Or, is it the other Winbury son, Tom and his pregnant wife, Abby? 

And, what defines a “perfect couple,” and where are the boundaries that denote where such perfection ends? If you are in a couple relationship, ask yourself, are my partner and I perfect together? Why not? Are you perfect together sometimes during the relationship, but not during others? These complicated questions about couples are the subjects of Elin Hilderbrand’s novel, The Perfect Couple.

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What makes Hilderbrand’s book unusual for a novel cataloged as “chick lit,” is that it is a murder mystery, which shares its plot with the backdrop of relationships as a subplot. This combination makes for a fun read, and although it is classified as “chick lit,” Hilderbrand’s prose, plot, and character development is better than most in that genre.

The setting, Nantucket Island, is where the story opens. It is the night before Celeste and Benji’s wedding. The men are going to hit the bars in town, and the women are going to enjoy each other’s company on the estate, and imbibe as well. 

The bride is distracted by her parent’s plight. Her mother is in Stage 4 breast cancer, and her father holds a secret that would destroy their small family if it were revealed. Celeste is worried, also, that her soon to be in-laws will not approve of her middle class parents. Her mother has worked in the Crayola Company for years, and her father sells men’s clothing. 

 When the Otis parents arrive at Nantucket for the nuptials, “Greer swoops down to hug Karen in her wheelchair without confirmation that she is, in fact, Karen Otis, which gives Karen the uncomfortable feeling that she and Bruce  “stick out do badly that there can be no mistaking them.” Thus, a sense of tension is established early in the story.

On the morning of the wedding, a shocking revelation occurs that halts the expensive ceremony and reception from happening. The maid of honor, Merritt Monaco, is found by Celeste, floating in the water near the estate. Instead of celebrating an elegant wedding, planned by Greer Garrison Winbury in such detail as would benefit people of her means, the joyful event must be canceled. In its stead, an intense interrogation of all the guests who were present at the party the night before. 

Nantucket’s police chief, Ed Kapenash and Massachusetts state police detective, Nicholas Diamantopoulos (the Greek) begin an investigation, as the Chief struggles to preserve the crime scene. One by one, the characters add snippets of information that will lead, hopefully, to the killer, if there was one, and build a convincing case against . . . someone. 

In the course of meeting with the stunned guests, the law officers are perplexed as they try to piece together a logical scenario for what occurred. Hilderbrand employs the multiple character point of view to reveal secrets that each character harbors, but if revealed, would detonate a social upheaval that would shake the residents of Nantucket for quite some time.

It is no surprise that Hilderbrand is a beach lover. She grew up on Cape Cod, and after working for one summer following the death of her father, she vowed that she would never give up another summer to work. In 1993 she moved to Nantucket, which explains why it is usually the setting for her romantic tales. Her first novel, The Beach Club, was published in 2000, and she now has had 21 novels published. Many of the characters in The Perfect Couple, have made appearances in earlier Hilderbrand novels.

As you are perusing the shelves in the library, book store, or skimming through Amazon, choose a Hilderbrand to stick into your beach bag when you step out to sun bathe this summer. Or, if you are suffering currently from sun deprivation, start reading The Perfect Couple now. It will fill your reading hours with sunshine.