Unschooled, brow-beaten by her tyrannical father, and utterly lacking in self esteem, demure but diligent Tess is the perfect bride for Jim. An apparently respectable cop, Jim is a sociopath who not only terrorises his young bride but becomes one of America's most renown serial killers. It was Tess, who documented his unexplained absences, odd scratches and wounds, and the timing of gifts of jewellery, who managed to seal Jim's conviction, a betrayal Jim would never be able to forgive. When Jim escapes from jail his only aim (apart from staying free) is to kill Tess, but she's no longer the ingenue he married. Enlisting the help of JT Dillon, a former marine, Tess is determined that this time she'll fight back.
The underlying theme - powerless wife rises up against her abusive husband and triumphs - is hardly new, but Gardner has managed a quite satisfying twist by jumping (after the initial chapters setting up his character, her subjugation, and their relationship) to the aftermath and then combining the domestic plot with an action-packed crime procedural.
The bulk of in depth characterisation falls on Tess, but reluctant hero JT gets his fair share. The depth and detail of his significant back story made me wonder is he's a recurring character, as I couldn't see any plot-based reason for the amount of minutiae he learn about him, but this wasn't enough to derail the book - the pace is furious, the plot involving, and there are enough twists to keep it interesting.
The Perfect Husband isn't particularly ground-breaking but it's certainly a notch above the average domestic horror offering, and was enough for me to consider specifically searching out more of Gardner's work in the future. - Alex