top of page

Dark and disturbing thriller exploring nature v nurture

My Perfect Daughter - Sarah A Denzil

Released: 2021


Premise: Zoe escapes from a psychopathic madman who's imprisoned her at his farmhouse, with the help of his young daughter, Maddie. But when Zoe later adopts Maddie and people close to her start dying, Zoe is forced to ask whether it's a case of like father, like daughter.

Review: This is a truly dark and disturbing book about the pervasiveness of evil and the age-old question of nature v nurture. I loved it.

In some respects, it put me in mind of one of my favourite thrillers of recent years, Lucinda Berry’s The Perfect Child, in so far as they both deal with the terrifying prospect of a child who may or may not be inherently evil.

And that’s one of the most terrifying thoughts I can imagine. How can a child, who we’re programmed to believe is the personification of innocence, perpetuate such hideous crimes as torture and murder?

It sends a chill down your spine just thinking about it.

My Perfect Daughter is the story of Zoe, who’s lured to an old farmhouse by a young girl, Maddie, and where she is imprisoned and abused by Maddie’s father, Peter.

The early chapters where Denzil takes us back to that time are creepily evocative and brilliantly written. This writer has some imagination and a dark mind!

You feel like you’re living the scenes with Zoe, sharing her desperation and her pain. Denzil’s writing style certainly propels you through the pages at breakneck speed.

Eventually, Zoe manages to escape from Peter’s clutches with Maddie’s help and a few years into the future we’re given a glimpse into Zoe’s new life after adopting Maddie as her own daughter.

But then one of Maddie’s friends dies, falling off a cliff on a camp that she shared with Maddie – and the question arises, did Maddie push her?

And of course, the wider question is posed – if you’re the daughter of a sadistic psychopath, is there any hope you’ll turn out differently?

Over the course of the story, we’re asked to question what’s really going on in the family and whether Maddie really is evil.

I enjoyed the ending, although it does conclude a little open-endedly, with the reader asked to draw their own conclusions.

I like that. I don’t want my books to spoon feed me. I want to be challenged and left thinking deeply about the book long after I’ve switched off my Kindle.

And The Perfect Daughter had me doing just that.


Zoe didn't meet her daughter the way most mothers do. She finds five-year-old Maddie alone and dirty on a countryside road. Frightened for Maddie's safety, she picks her up and takes her back to her father, not knowing what she's about to step into. Because Maddie wasn't just lost, she was there to lure her serial killer dad's new victim.

After escaping from the clutches of Maddie's dangerous father, she bonds with the little girl. Only Maddie knows what it was like to be at that house. And when no family members come forward to claim Maddie, Zoe decides to adopt her. They move away to a safe house on the Cornish coast and become a family of their own. Zoe gets married and has another child, a baby brother for Maddie.

But Maddie is still traumatised by what she experienced. Diagnosed with callous and unemotional traits, Zoe has a tough job to ensure Maddie has the love and support she needs. Zoe truly loves her daughter—she wouldn't change a thing about her. But there is a part of her that always stays alert. A part of her is afraid of Maddie.

And now, eleven years later, Maddie's school bully is found dead, and another girl is missing.

Zoe can't help but wonder... like father, like daughter?


AJ Wills is the bestselling author of multiple psychological thrillers. He was a journalist for more than twenty years and has been writing full-time since March 2021. He's married to fellow thriller writer, AJ McDine.

38 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All


Logo psych thrillerfans_Smallest.png
Reviews, recommendations and discussion 
bottom of page