WTOP Book Report: ‘Perfect Little Lives’ mixes murder mystery, romance and social commentary

Twin authors Amber and Danielle Brown speak with WTOP's Terik King

This story was written as part of the WTOP Book Report series authored by Terik King. Read more of that coverage

How far will a person go to find justice and truth?

(Courtesy Graydon House / HarperCollins)

This and many other questions confront the lead character in twin authors Amber and Danielle Brown’s new mystery/suspense novel, “Perfect Little Lives.”

“The working title of this book was called ‘Closure,'” Amber Brown told WTOP.

The book’s events swirl around one key theme: Is closure worth it?

“Sometimes you might get that closure and not like what you get,” Amber said.

In “Perfect Little Lives,” readers follow the journey of Simone, a millennial Black woman raised in New Jersey and living and working in New York City.

She doesn’t tell people that she’s from New Jersey, though, “because she has some sordid things about her past that she doesn’t really want to get out there,” Amber said.

Simone’s sense of order in her carefully rebuilt life is disrupted when Pia, a determined documentary filmmaker, reaches out to interview her for a crime documentary about a heinous murder: the murder of her mother, for which her father has been convicted.

“She does not believe he murdered anyone, “Amber explained. “For the last 10 years, she’s been trying to get his conviction overturned,” and the new documentary is going to hurt the chance at an appeal.

The story becomes supercharged with the appearance of an important character from Simone’s past.

“The person who helped her father get locked up was a judge,” Danielle said. The judge was the father of her childhood best friend Hunter.

“There’s a big age difference. But now there’s sort of this romantic element in the book … kind of a ‘will they/won’t they?'” she said.

Simone, determined to find out the “truth” of who killed her mother, “finds out this little bit of information that makes it seem like the judge is the one who murdered her mother,” said Amber, “She basically manipulates [Hunter] into getting close to him and his family so she can investigate and try to prove that [Hunter’s] father killed her mother.”

What results is an addictive mystery filled with twists, turns and a blend of steamy encounters and social commentary. The Brown twins’ skillful storytelling creates a compelling narrative that explores themes of justice, betrayal and the resilience of the human spirit. As Simone navigates the complex web of her past, readers are sure to be captivated by the tension between uncovering the truth and risking the stability she has fought so hard to achieve.

Amber and Danielle Brown (Deidhra Fahey Photography)

Blending tones

“Perfect Little Lives” deftly weaves together elements of murder mystery, romance and social commentary, as the Brown sisters say the core of the story is rooted in the relationship between Simone and the white, affluent Hunter. Racism, a prevalent theme in their lives, was subtly integrated into the narrative without being, as Danielle describes it, too “on the nose.”

“We love reading twisty, fun thrillers,” Danielle said. “And you could have a twisty thriller but it’s not too much substance. And then, you could have something that’s social commentary, but it’s kind of thrown in your face. We wanted to mix those two together. You don’t feel like you’re getting forced a message, but when you’re finished reading the book you’re like ‘Wow, I see what they did there.’”

Working closely together

When sitting down with the Brown twins for an interview, all the expected “twin-isms” are immediately noticeable: from the synergistic way they complete each other’s sentences to the rapid-fire jokes and identical laughter.

The Brown sisters admit that their collaboration didn’t start smoothly.

“I always swore I would never, ever write a book with her,” Amber laughed. “We both have very strong opinions on things. We’re twins, so we have pretty much the same personality. We usually agree, but when we disagree, it’s a huge deal. And we (were) going to fight to the death because we’re like, ‘How do you not see it my way?'”

Their first joint project, “Someone Had to Do It,” proved to be a herculean effort with over a thousand notes shared during the editing process, and the sisters found a path to compromise.

“I told her if you’re going to have a critique, you have to have a suggestion of how to fix it,” Amber said.

Ultimately, that initial effort was a hit with audiences; it was selected as a December LibraryReads pick and graced the “most anticipated” and “best of the month lists” of Essence.com, Reader’s Digest, BookBub, The Roo and Book Riot.

For “Perfect Little Lives,” they refined their collaboration, taking turns to build the narrative and offering constructive suggestions to each other. Danielle emphasized the complementary nature of their abilities, making the collaboration smoother.

“There are so many positives to working together, because her strengths are my weaknesses and vice versa. And if I’m overwhelmed with something, well, she’ll handle it that day,” said Danielle.

For the culture

While Danielle says she would recommend “Perfect Little Lives” to “anyone who likes a twisty thriller,” Amber is a bit more matter-of-fact.

“First and foremost, we’re writing for Black women,” she said. “We wanted the girls like us, who are 13 or 14 and just getting into books, to be like, ‘Oh, I see myself.'”

Terik King

Terik King is an Associate Producer for WTOP. Before joining WTOP in 2022 he held roles producing podcasts, unscripted television and content for MTV, the NFL and independent documentary production companies.

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