We love mystery!

What Would You Do: Perfect Little Children

Brook and Sarah take a deep dive into Sophie Hannah’s Perfect Little Children. What would you do if you saw an old friend after twelve years and her children hadn’t aged?


Perfect Little Children (2020) Sophie Hannah

For more information

Instagram: @cluedinmystery
Contact us: hello@cluedinmystery.com
Music: Signs To Nowhere by Shane Ivers – www.silvermansound.com


This transcript is generated by a computer and there may be some mis-spellings and strange punctuation. We try to catch these before posting, but some things slip through.

SarahWelcome to Clued in Mystery. I’m Sarah.
BrookAnd I’m Brook and we both love mystery.
SarahHi, Brook.
BrookGood morning, Sarah. How are you doing?
SarahI’m doing really well. How about you?
BrookBetter now that we get to talk about mystery.
SarahAnd I’m so excited that we get to share that we are going to have a newsletter coming soon.
BrookYes, this is going to be so great as a way to keep more in touch with our listeners.
SarahAnd so if anybody’s interested in signing up for our newsletter, we’ve got a waitlist that’s on our website at cluedinmystery.com. And while you’re there, you can also join the waitlist for our paid subscription that will be coming in 2024 that will be filled with loads of goodies including the opportunity to read early drafts of a project that you and I are planning to work on together in 2024.
BrookYes, it’s going to be so exciting.
SarahSo let’s get started on our episode. Today we’re talking about another. What would you do story.
BrookYes, we’re going to be discussing today Perfect Little Children by Sophie Hannah and please remember that we will be doing a deep dive into this book. So, if this is one that you haven’t read yet, you might want to do that and then come back to the episode. Because it will be filled with spoilers. So let’s just get started with a little intro to the book.
SarahBefore you start with the overview, Brook I think we should also just have a really brief content warning. There is domestic abuse and harm to children in this book.
BrookThank you, Sarah. Beth Leeson does what a lot of us might. She takes the opportunity to check up on her estranged best friend. When she happens to be in the area for her teenage son’s soccer game but she’s shocked when she spots her old friend Flora Braid outside her large home with two small children. Flora’s kids should be teens like Beth’s. Even more troubling, Flora calls these little children by the same names, Thomas and Emily. Beth is immediately intrigued. She has to know why these two children have seemingly never aged. They were even wearing the same clothing she remembers them wear all those years ago. Also concerning is the fact there were actually three Braid children. Little Georgina had been born just before her friendship with Flora broke up. Where was she? Understandably, after this very strange experience. Beth begins to worry for her own sanity was she just imagining things. She tells her teenage daughter Zannah and husband Dom about what she saw. And they begin to brainstorm logical explanations with her. It’s a humorous scene as well as insightful. Well, Beth doesn’t really find some of their theories very funny, especially when the two of them suggest that she’s just confused about what she saw but they’re at least trying to be helpful.
BrookThe next day Dom even accompanies Beth back to the house to hopefully put her mind at ease. Except a neighbor explains that the Braids sold the house years ago. They no longer live there. Beth knows this is impossible. She saw her friend there just the day before. Dom locates the Braids via social media. They’re apparently no longer living in the UK, but in Florida. So, Dom and Beth decide to call the Braids. Dom is sure that this is going to clear everything up, but in fact, their old friends completely deny the possibility that Beth saw Flora in their old neighborhood. They claim their three children are healthy, happy American teenagers. Beth refuses to believe them. She trusts what she saw. She becomes obsessed in this self-proclaimed mission to discover what’s going on in her friend’s life. She interviews school employees, she confronts the woman who’s allegedly now living in Flora’s house, she even visits Flora’s aging parents and eventually she flies to Florida to get the story straight. All the while she’s forced to consider the part she played in the rift that pulled the two women apart. Maybe she rushed too quickly to shut Flora out of her life. And maybe she could have saved her from all this. This becomes Beth’s driving force. She regrets not being a better friend and resolves to discover the truth to rectify her negative actions from over a decade ago. In the end Beth does save Flora from what is revealed to be this abusive, controlling situation with her husband. So, Lewis was angry at Flora for ever becoming pregnant with Georgina after he told her he did not want more children. Even worse, Georgina was born with mild birth defects, which were completely unacceptable to tyrannical Lewis. He kills the baby, blaming it on crib death to the officials. But he holds enough contrived evidence to make Flora look guilty if he wants to. And this is the way he lords over her this information that could send her to prison if he chose. So, they live these strange separate mirror lives. He has the two older children in the US while. He continues to be married to Flora. And they have these two second children that they name the same names and she’s sort of punished to live with them in their old house. Beth finally gets Flora to trust her and they confront Lewis. And in in the ensuing melee, he ends up being accidentally shot by Beth with his own gun but wasn’t really an accident? I started saying that the story opens with Beth Leeson doing something that I could imagine myself doing. But along the way she makes many choices that would be considered negligent reckless and even dangerous, which makes this a great story to pose our fun question. What would you do?
SarahOh thanks, Brook. That was ah that was a great summary. And yeah, you captured kind of all of the high points, low points of the book.
BrookI’m not sure if it captures all of them, because as we said before we started recording today, this is a wild, wild plot.
SarahIt is. And you know, as I do with all of the “what would you do” books, I read it twice. And I remember that you know the first time reading it thinking “Ok this could be a good “what would you do?” story. And then the second time I enjoyed it more, which I think I’ve done as well with all of the previous “what would you do?” books that I’ve enjoyed it more the second time around and maybe because I understood what the outcome was going to be and so had a better understanding of her motivation for why she did the things that she did.
BrookI think that that’s true. In some of these types of stories along the way you’re just like questioning. Why are you doing this, you know, but. As you said by the end of this book, you’re really happy that she stuck to her guns and did what she did because she did save Flora and her children from a really bad situation. So, let’s start at the beginning. You know I said I could see myself like taking the opportunity to drop in and you know eavesdrop on someone’s life. What about you? Do you do you think that you would have done that initial scene where she goes to her old friend’s house to you know, poke around a little bit.
SarahAh, so I don’t know if I would drive to the house because that’s what she does and she says—am I remembering this correctly—that she says like she hadn’t looked her up on social media. She hadn’t done any of those kind of what might have been a logical first steps. You know the first thing she does when she’s got this opportunity because her son has a has a football match that is in the area because this house is I don’t know 45 minutes let’s say from where she lives.
SarahYeah I don’t I don’t know but I I understand her motivation to do that because their relationship just ended in such a strange and confusing way for her. And you know she just kind of wanted to see “is she happy without me in her life?”
BrookRight? And you know so then she sees these kids that are like carbon copies of what the children looked like when she was friends with Flora ten, twelve years ago. And um I understood that part where she was like “Am I going crazy?” I totally felt that like I think and I truly believe that would have been my go to rather than investigating the situation. I would have been like “Do I need to go see a therapist because there is something middle age happening here with me.”
SarahShe doubts herself, but then she also is pretty firm in her belief that this is what she saw, right? And this is what she heard because that’s part of that initial conversation that she has with her husband and her daughter. Well maybe you misheard the names. And maybe they just they just look like those kids but she’s pretty firm and you know what they were wearing the same clothes that I remember those those kids wearing a decade ago.
SarahNow, I don’t know if I would remember necessarily what my friend’s kids were wearing ten years ago. But if they were the kinds of kind of friends that you saw on a very frequent basis then you know maybe you would have ah a better recollection of their clothing.
BrookYeah, that’s a really good point I had that thought. Like I know that there are certain items of clothing from my own child that I would recognize like “oh that’s the cute little shirt that she just adored when she was 10” or whatever but I don’t. Know that I have those recollections from my friends children. So good point.
SarahAh, so, Brook would you return to the neighborhood. You know she and her husband decide. Okay, we’re going to figure out what’s what and they they go back and they go back a couple of times. Don’t they because she goes back and this neighbor is like what are you doing here again and I think she was by herself for for that visit and then she and her husband go back right? and actually knock on the door so they do that after she has seen Flora in a in a parking lot and then she gets into Flora’s car and falls asleep in her car which is definitely something I wouldn’t do.
BrookAgreed that was a scene where I thought no I would not get in someone else’s car. Not not even ah I would not get in someone else’s car. Perhaps if that was still your best friend like this was some is somebody. You’re with all the time and you have an argument and you’re like well I’m sitting in here until you come back? Okay, but she hasn’t seen this person for a decade and no that was not believable to me.
SarahAh, but she does she gets in the car. Um, and then she’s confronted by another woman who’s wearing the same clothes that she thinks she saw Flora wearing so then when she returns home. Her husband is like that’s it. We’re going to knock on that door and we’re going to find out what’s going on and this woman who confronted her in the parking lot and this man answered the door and they have explanations for everything. I mean I don’t know if I would go back to that house so many times.
BrookRight? right? I think that Zannah, she’s what she’s studying for her GCSEs. So she’s an older teenager and she Zannah and Dom I think pose some really logical explanations. And I feel like at that point I probably would have sided with my family and just been like ok whatever I don’t know what that was all about. But I I’ve just got to go with these theories you know and but. We have that other layer to the story which is um, she feels really bad about hurting potentially her best friend all those years ago. And so I think that if that part of the story hadn’t been in there that she might have let this go. But she really feels like she needs to rectify that and what had happened is she did not know about the pregnancy of Georgina. She didn’t know her friend was going to have another baby and she gets the family Christmas card and surprise they’ve had another child. And it hurts her so bad that she cuts little Georgina out of the Christmas card and then it keeps that. I don’t know why you’d keep it but she kept it well Flora comes to visit and finds this cut up Christmas card and that’s essentially the end of their relationship. So she has no idea why her best friend never told her she was having another baby then the best friend learns that she was clearly upset about it and they’ve never spoken since so she has this issue that she still has completely unresolved.
SarahI think that’s something that is fairly believable right? That you you know feel like you’ve done something to hurt someone sometime in the past, you’ve lost connection with them. You had a great relationship at the time and you miss having that person in in your life. And so I I do kind of get how she was feeling that she wanted to somehow even if it was just to say look I’m sorry that that happened right I was going through my own thing because she had herself, Beth had had a miscarriage around the time that Georgina um had been born.
SarahAnd so I think she was you know it felt she was pretty raw and so um, you know may not have reacted as ah as rationally as um as she might have otherwise. And so I get that sense of wanting to just clear the air. Even if they’re never going to be best friends again to just not have that hanging over that that relationship.
BrookRight? And I think that this whole um you know because clearly Beth knows that something’s going on that the braids aren’t admitting to because they’re saying oh no, we’re not, we’re not in our old neighborhood. Well yes, you are I saw you. So, it’s like another example of her not sharing her life or telling the truth to Beth you know, just like she did with the pregnancy. She kept that a secret. She’s obviously keeping additional secrets. And that just bothers Beth so much. She feels like no I want to find out what is going on.
SarahYeah I and I think that’s a really great point that it it just is that other feeling of of her deceiving her. As you said ah Zannah, the daughter, is I think in her late teens should be 17 or 18 years old I think. And Beth kind of really involves her in the investigation she brings her along on some of these conversations that she has with other people so she speaks to another neighbor on the on the same street as this house and learns a bit about um about the family and then she takes Zannah to go and see Flora’s parents. So, I have two what would you do is there. One, would you track down her parents and and try and figure out what was going on and two, would you bring your daughter along?
BrookSo I loved the relationship between Zannah and Beth. I think this is something that Sophie Hannah did really really well and you can tell that she has teenagers because the way they talk to their mom and the way she talks to them. She’s a great mom that’s something that’s really established well is she’s got a great relationship with her kids. So, I loved that. But I don’t think I would have taken her with me to do this stuff just because and Beth was and I don’t think for herself thinking about how dangerous these trips were. And so certainly if she had realized that you know perhaps she also wouldn’t have chosen to take Zannah along and I do think it was an interesting choice to go visit her. I do think it was an interesting choice to visit Flora’s parents but it was believable to me because they had been friends in college so these were two this was a couple that she knew like they spent time together. She had been at their home. But again Beth doesn’t really, this is maybe a character flaw on her, she doesn’t like have that ah foresight of what this means she doesn’t really anticipate the fact that they’ve aged considerably and she also has no idea that they too have been estranged from their daughter. So it all goes horribly wrong and then Zannah is there to witness it.
SarahI think I’m with you. I too really liked that relationship between Beth and Zannah. I liked the relationship between her and her husband as well. Like I thought they were both strong characters. Ah, and yeah, I’m not sure that I would bring her along because she was treating her more like a friend rather than as a parent and child relationship, which maybe as you know my son is still quite young and so you know maybe as your children get older they become more like friends and and you don’t play the role of parent as much. But as you say there were some potential safety risks in in bringing her along and and at one point you know Zannah gets a little bit drunk because they get served some I don’t know what it was the beverage, but it was you know some beverage that is laced with alcohol and um and Zannah of course is eager to try some and um and so she ends up getting a little bit drunk. But yeah, and then and she takes her as well when they visit the child’s school and Beth tries a couple of she kind of sits outside a couple of schools before she figures out which one they’re attending, which is you know she’s very committed to finding the answers about what’s what’s going on and again I’m not sure that that’s um, if I didn’t see them at the first school I’m not sure that I would then have gone to the to the next one.
BrookAgreed the the doggedness that she has about figuring this out I don’t think that I would have that I I do think that Dom is such a her husband is such a good ah foil for her character because and I felt a lot of his decisions I was like yeah that’s probably where I would be because he’s like let’s tell the police let’s tell child services and then let’s walk away because we haven’t seen these people for a decade. What is it to us.
BrookMaybe that maybe they are living a weird life. But what is that to us and I was like yes Dom you go.
SarahBut yeah, and and you know I think I I think you probably would always have the question of like so what was going on with those people, but it would more be like I don’t know a story that you would pull out and be like. “Guys, there was this really strange thing happening with these people I used to know” rather than something that you just become so fixated on.
BrookExactly. So, Sarah did you ever suspect that this book was going to go into the supernatural because we learned that we hear that Lewis was a scientist and it there were it early on when these little kids hadn’t changed apparently. That kind of played in my mind like is this going to be a twist of supernatural something.
SarahSo I didn’t feel like there were enough clues to really make that ah a plausible explanation. So yes, he was a scientist. And I think you know, it could have gone down that route but there just wasn’t enough to really take you to take you there.
BrookYeah, those that would have been an unsatisfying ending for me personally and so I grounded myself and like that just doesn’t seem like something Sophie Hannah would do.
SarahSo, Brook would you hop on a plane and go to Florida?
BrookI was just flabbergasted when because she’s been putting her work on hold. She’s a massage therapist and she’s been canceling clients left and right so she can run around and do all these investigative duties, so that was really surprising. Plus you know I am not someone who does a lot of international travel. But I’m expecting that’s extremely expensive.
SarahI imagine it would have been, like a short notice flight like that. Yeah, probably not um, probably not a discount flight. It only would have been about five hours I think from the UK to Florida. So not, you know, not a super long flight but long enough. Um, yeah. I actually can’t believe that her husband was ok with that. And they had had an argument just before she laughed and they end up kind of exchanging some quite nice emails with each other um where they kind of clear the air after that after that argument where he had kind of drawn a line in the sand and said like you cannot continue to do this and then she hops on a plane and waits for Lewis outside his office. And Lewis is a pretty slick guy, right? He is not phased at all by seeing her. And he’s still he kind of sticks to his story and then tells her a different one and I can’t remember if he tells her a third one? Um, but yeah I don’t as it turns out it was a dangerous situation that she has put herself in by by going to Florida.
BrookYes, it’s very dangerous. Um Flora is there too by this time and this is when the whole thing begins to unravel ah they as you say Lewis tells several different versions of the story all trying to get Beth to clamp onto one and be done with this. But she continues to push and eventually, as I as I said, mentioned in the summary she gets. Flora to trust her and so then they form an alliance against Lewis to get the the truth to finally come out.
SarahAnd yeah, and and as you said in the introduction, it ends with Lewis being shot. And Beth kind of alluding to that it wasn’t an accidental death as she had told the police.
BrookRight. It’s actually Zannah, the very clever Zannah, who’s been along on so much of this adventure with her mom who clues in and and kind of realizes that Beth took matters into her own hands to free Flora from from this terrible situation.
SarahWell, Brook thank you for this conversation about Perfect Little Children by Sophie Hannah.
BrookIt was so fun. I love these episodes so much, Sarah where we get to dissect a story.
SarahMe too. It’s really fun to really think about if I was the character, what are the choices that I would be making.
BrookAbsolutely and thank you all for listening today to Clued in Mystery. I’m Brook.
SarahAnd I’m Sarah and we both love mystery.