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The Perfect Son

Recap, Summary & Spoilers

The Full Book Recap and Chapter-by-Chapter Summary for The Perfect Son by Freida McFadden are below.

Quick(-ish) Recap

The two-paragraph version: Erika and her husband Jason is the parents of two teenaged children, Hannah and Liam. One of them, Liam, has had sociopathic tendencies in the past, though only Erika knows about it. When a girl Liam likes from his school, Olivia, goes missing Erika worries that it was him. As the police investigation progresses, Liam is arrested. Erika also learns that her father, who she previously believed died in a car accident when she was a child, is alive, but has been in prison for the past 40 years for murder. She wonders if Liam got it from him.

Eventually, it's revealed that the abductor is her husband Jason. Unlike Liam, who went to therapy when he started displaying antisocial behaviors, Jason's parents treated him roughly, and Jason eventually murdered them. Liam and Erika confront Jason, and Liam stabs and kills Jason, though Erika tells the police she did it. Olivia is saved (along with Hannah who had also learned that Jason was the perpetrator. Jason is eventually linked to 12 other murders. Erika apologies to Liam for believing it was him. Still, in the Epilogue, another teenaged girl goes missing nearby and Erika worries if could be Liam.

Erika Cass is the mother of two children, Hannah, 14, and Liam, 16. She's married to Jason, a wealthy tech founder. Her son Liam is charming and polite, but he has a terrifying dangerous streak beginning from when he was a young child. In grade school, he trapped a female classmate in the janitor's closet and expressed that he wanted a wife so he could trap her in a hole in the ground. Only Erika and Liam are aware of this.

When Erika learns that Liam is interested in someone named "Olivia" at school, she attempts to contact a private detective, Frank, to tell her to stay away from Liam. Erika believes it's someone named Olivia Reynolds who is on the debate team with Liam. However, soon, a girl named Olivia Mercer disappears after meeting up with Liam at night.

Erika also learns from her mother that her father, Marvin, who she previously believed died in a car accident when she was a child, is alive, but has been in prison for the past 40 years for murder. He has recently been released on parole. Erika decides to track him down to try to understand him better, in hope of understanding Liam better in case Liam got his dangerous tendencies from him. She asks Frank to track him down. He does, but Erika goes to talk to Marvin, and it seems like the murder was the result of a selfish accident (secretly giving his mistress pills to abort an unwanted baby) as opposed to true psychopathy.

The rumor mill soon identifies Liam as the likely abductor of Olivia Mercer, and the police investigation points to Liam as well. There was an incident with Liam starving pet hamsters when he was a child and the incident with the janitor's closet caused Erika to send Liam to a child psychologist for two years.

A former English teacher, Richard Young, claims Liam gave his family carbon monoxide poisoning in retaliation for giving him bad grades. And a classmate at school, Tyler, used to be friends with Liam but ended their friendship cause Liam seemed crazy. However, Hannah counters this by saying that Tyler is a terrible human being and a bully. She says that Liam got mad at Tyler for being a jerk to Hannah after she told Tyler to stop being creepy with one of her female friends.

After traces of Olivia's DNA are found in the trunk of the Cass family car. Liam is arrested, but released on bail.

Meanwhile, Olivia is alive but being slowly starved to death in a pit dug into the ground while being periodically visited by her captor. She tries unsuccesfully to escape. Finally, Hannah Cass shows up, saying she followed "him" there to this cabin -- and the book reveals that Olivia's captor is Jason Cass, Hannah and Liam's father. Jason shows up soon afterwards.

Unlike Liam, who went to therapy when he started displaying antisocial behaviors, Jason's parents treated him roughly, and Jason eventually murdered them. Jason is a true psychopath, and he puts Hannah in the pit as well, intending to kill her. Jason was also the one responsible for giving Richard's family carbon monoxide poisoning, and he was hoping Liam would go to prison for murdering Olivia. Jason has been wanting Liam in jail since he felt that Liam was a liability and didn't want him going back to therapy and potentially revealing that Jason is where he gets his dangerous tendencies from.

Liam and Erika soon arrive at the cabin as well since Liam knew Hannah was headed there. They confront Jason. Liam ends up stabbing and killing Jason, though Erika tells the police she did it in order to protect Liam. Olivia is saved, along with Hannah. Jason is eventually linked to 12 other murders. Erika apologies to Liam for believing it was him. Still, in the Epilogue, another teenaged girl goes missing nearby and Erika worries if could be Liam.

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Chapter-by-Chapter Summary

Chapter 1

In a police interview with Erika Cass, she admits to stabbing someone to death and says she would do it again.

Chapters 2 – 3

One Week Earlier

Erika is making breakfast as her kids get ready to go to school. Her husband, Jason, returns from his jog which he’s been doing each morning for about a year, since he’s been trying to eat right and get into shape.

Hannah, 14, is running late while Liam, 16, is ready to go. Hannah complains about the eggs while Liam thanks her. Liam tells her he has a debate event after school, and Erika offers to go watch.

They got into the car to go to school, and Hannah mentions that Liam is in love with a girl named Olivia. Erika thinks to herself that Liam is her favorite child and she’d do anything to protect him, but she knows what Liam is capable of and needs to find out who Olivia is to keep something terrible from happening to her.

Chapter 4

In a police interview with Sharon Anderson, she discusses how Liam was a student of hers for about four months when he was in kindergarten. However, he was expelled because he convinced a little girl to “play janitor” with her and ended up binding her with duct tape in the custodial closet, putting tape over her mouth and locking her in there. She says after they found her, he cried and said he was sorry, but she thinks it was fake.

Chapters 5 – 8

Arriving at school, Erika drops off the kids, and she’s greeted by Jessica Martinson who is head of the PTA. Her son, Tyler Martinson used to be close with Liam, but they don’t hang out anymore. Erika doesn’t know why but she suspects it was probably something Liam did. Today, Jessica tells her there’s something she urgently needs to discuss with Erika, and Erika wonders what Liam has done.

Erika agrees to meet her at a diner nearby named Charlie’s to chat. Erika and Jessica are both stay-at-home moms. Erika had been working as a journalist in Manhattan when she met Jason. She still writes some for the Nassau Nutshell, but it barely pays. When they sit down to talk, Jessica asks Erika to help out with movie night, an annual school event. She says the woman who was supposed to handle it, Rachel, is busy caring for her husband who had a heart attack. Erika has no problem agreeing to Jessica’s request. Jessica also asks Erika to attend the upcoming PTA meeting, which Erika reluctantly agrees to.

Meanwhile, Olivia is in school thinking about how she’s really into Liam, and it’s distracting her in math class and affecting her grades. Today, Liam turns around to ask if she wants to come watch his debate after school, and Olivia happily says yes.

Olivia has never had a boyfriend or a real kiss. She has mousy brown hair and freckles. She thinks about her friend Madison who is slightly prettier than her and has had two boyfriends. Her current boyfriend is Aidan. Olivia tells Madison about her crush, but Madison says that Liam seems really fake.
They go to see him at the debate, and she sees him talking to a different Olivia, Olivia Reynolds, who is very pretty, blond and on the debate team with him. Afterwards, Olivia goes to talk to Liam, and he invites her to go to Charlie’s tomorrow afterschool with some of his friends from track. Olivia happily agrees.

Chapters 9 – 12

Erika watches the debate as well, and she sees Liam talking to a pretty blond girl beforehand. Erika asks around and she’s told the girl is Olivia Reynolds. Upon hearing this, Erika calls Frank Marino for help and leaves him a message.

Afterwards, Liam is happy that they won the debate and are proceeding to go to the state competition. Mrs. Randall, a history teacher who runs the debate team, comes by to congratulate Liam. She also mentions that Hannah has missed a few homework assignments.

Back at home, Erika asks Hannah about the assignments and offers to take her shopping if she turns all her missing homework assignments in.
Soon, Jason and Liam get back from practicing driving, and Frank Marino calls Erika back. Frank is a private detective, and Erika tells him that the person he needs to make sure Liam stays away from is Olivia Reynolds (the blond Olivia).

The next day, Olivia (the brown-haired one) is nervously awaiting Liam’s arrival. Madison reiterates again that she dislikes Liam. She says that Tyler used to be friends with him, but he stopped because Liam would say and do crazy things that freaked him out. However, Olivia shoots back that Madison’s boyfriend Aidan kind of sucks. Olivia also thinks about how Tyler asked her out once, but she wasn’t interested.

When Lian shows up, he offers Olivia his jacket because she’s cold, and Olivia is elated.

Chapter 13

In a police interview with Olivia Reynolds, she says she had a crush on Liam, but he seemed interested in someone else. Then, she was approached by a man on the street who had risqué photos of herself that she’d sent to a previous guy she dated, and the man threated to show them to people if she kept hanging out with Liam.

She asks if he’s guilty of the crime they’re investigating but they decline to share details of it with her.

Chapters 14 – 15

At the diner, there’s six of them including Olivia and Liam, and he offers to split a milkshake with her. Tyler is also there with his friends, and things are going fine until Tyler accuses Liam of trying to trip him on the way to the bathroom. When Tyler doesn’t let it go, Liam indirectly threatens Tyler’s sister and cat until Tyler backs down.

Soon, Olivia’s mother calls and says it’s late so she’s going to come pick her up, despite Olivia’s protests. Before she leaves, Liam tells her he would’ve walked her home. In the car, Olivia is huffy, but her mom tells her not to worry about it and that he won’t give up that easily if he likes her. She says Olivia can invite him over as long as she leaves if door open if they’re in her room.

Chapters 16 – 18

Erika is cooking dinner when Jason gets home from work. As they get ready for dinner, Hannah notes that Liam still isn’t home. Erika starts to worry that Liam is getting up to something, and cuts herself chopping vegetables, but Liam soon arrives home. That night, Erika’s editor at the Nassau Nutshell, Brian, calls.

Erika thinks about how Jason doesn’t know what Liam is capable of.

When Olivia gets home, Tyler is waiting for her. Olivia thinks Tyler is attractive, but she also remembers that when they were freshmen, Tyler bullied a kid named Greg for an entire year until he left the school. He also sent around topless photos of Lily Macintosh that she’d sent him when they were dating.

Tyler tells Olivia that Liam is dangerous, though Olivia is dismissive of his concerns. When she turns away from him, Tyler grabs her firmly but she pulls away.

Chapters 19 – 21

Olivia is trying to fall asleep when she hears a tapping on her window, and she’s delighted to see that it’s Liam. He asks her to come down, saying that he’s been thinking about her, and he kisses her.

Meanwhile, Erika wakes from a nightmare. Jason is sound asleep next to her. She thinks about how they met 20 years ago when she was reporting on a tech company he helped found. Nowadays there’s significantly less romance. She recalls too one night when he came back from a late investor meeting smelling like perfume, and then proceeded to be very attentive for the next few weeks. She still wonders if he cheated.

She goes to make some tea when she notices that Liam’s bedroom door is ajar and then sees that he’s not there. She hurriedly wakes Jason, and he suggests calling his phone. Liam answers and says he couldn’t sleep so he went for a walk. Erika tells him to come home. She worries about whether he was with Olivia Reynolds and starts hyperventilating. Jason sees this and brings her some Xanax.

The next morning, there’s a commotion at school. Erika asks what’s going on and finds out a student named Olivia Mercer disappeared from her bedroom last night. Erika wonders if she got the wrong Olivia. When she drops Liam off, he tells her he loves her, and Erika wonders if he’s lying.

Chapter 22

In a police interview with Eleanor Williams, she identifies herself as Liam’s second grade teacher. She describes how he was a charming but disturbing child. He once described wanting a wife someday so he could put her in a hole and not let her out. She said that she informed the parents and noticed that Erika seemed alarmed, but not surprised. The teacher says that Erika says she put him in therapy, and Liam didn’t make any more statements like that, but she also get the impression that Liam was a smart kid and realized he shouldn’t say those things aloud.

Eleanor then says that she reached out to the police because she heard what happened to Olivia Mercer.

Chapters 23 – 25

Erika tries to tell herself that this wasn’t necessarily Liam’s doing. She notices on the car’s GPS, the last entered address is one she doesn’t recognize, 41 Green St. She goes there and it leads her to a house with the name “MERCER” on the mailbox.

Erika then realizes it must’ve been Liam. She calls Jason and tells him that she thinks Liam is the one responsible for the missing girl. Jason doesn’t believe it though.

Back at home, Erika’s mother has popped in for a visit. Erika mom tells her she has something serious to discuss with her and reveals that her father is actually still alive. Erika grew up believing he died in a car accident 40 years ago. Her mom tells her that he’s in prison for first-degree murder for killing a woman he was having an affair with. Her mother said that the woman had threatened to expose the affair, which is why she thinks he did it, though he claimed it was an accident.

She’s telling Erika now because he’s been released on parole, and he may come looking for her.

Chapter 26

Erika wakes up in the dark. She can tell she’s in a hole in the ground and her ankle is hurt.

Chapter 27

At dinner, the Cass family is eating when two policemen show up at their door, Detective Rivera and Detective Murphy, wanting to talk to Liam. Liam speaks to the officers and tells him the last time he saw Olivia was with some track friends at the diner.

They police then say that a neighbor saw Olivia in her backyard speaking to a teenaged boy at 2AM in the morning the night of her disappearance. They say his photo was identified and that their family car was seen at her house. Before Liam can respond, Jason demands that Liam have a lawyer present.

When the police leave, Liam admits to his parents that he was there that night, they made out a little and he came home. Afterwards, Erika thinks about how Liam had once asked her what would happen to someone who was kept in a hole if he didn’t feed her.

Chapter 28

Olivia finds a small thermos of water in the hole and drinks it eagerly. She continues feeling around, but is horrified when he discovers a human skull.

Chapter 29

In a police interview with Dr. Alice Herbert, a child psychologist, she explains that Liam was her patient for two years beginning when he was seven. She believes he could be responsible for Olivia’s disappearance. She tells them about the incident with a girl in the janitor’s closet. She also says Liam killed a string of pet hamsters by not feeding them. She believes he has antisocial personality disorder and is a sociopath, or possibly even a psychopath.

She says that she terminated their sessions when Liam took too much of an interest in the photo of her young daughter on her desk.

Chapter 30

The next day, Erika is scheduled to attend the PTA meeting to discuss the movie night event that night. When she shows up, the room goes quiet and people are surprised to see her there. When the topic of movie night comes up, Jessica tells Erika that Alicia is taking over instead since she’s aware of how busy Erika must be right now. Erika feels embarrassed and upset when she leaves.

Chapter 31

In a police interview with Madison Hartman, she discusses her friendship with Olivia and what she thinks of Liam. She says that Liam is a very good liar and that he’s fake.

Chapters 32 – 35

Meanwhile, Olivia is starving and scared and hears a noise from above. She sees it’s her captor. He drops a paper bag with some food and drink into the hole and then closes the trap door at the top back up before he leaves.

Back at home, Erika asks Liam where Olivia is, and he tells her that he doesn’t know. He insists he didn’t do anything.

The next day, the kids are at school when the police show up at the Cass house again. They tell Erika that they have a warrant for Liam’s phone, as well as a warrant to search their home and car. She also soon gets notified that there’s been an incident at school and that Liam was in a fight and needs to be picked up. Erika takes the other car to go get him.

At school, Hannah tells her she saw what happened and it wasn’t Liam’s fault. Tyler attacked Liam and is telling everyone that Liam is a psychopath. Mrs. McMillan, the principal, tells Erika and Jessica that their sons will both be suspended. Tyler for a week and Liam for one day.

However, Mrs. McMillan privately tells Erika that it might be better if Liam stays home until things blow over.

Chapter 36

In a police interview with Tyler Martinson, he says that he used to be best friends with Liam. He said they stopped being friends because un sixth grade Liam brought over a chipmunk and wanted to watch as it suffocated.

Then last year, Liam’s sister got mad at Tyler, and Liam punished Tyler for it by killing a stray cat that Tyler’s sister used to feed and leaving the dead cat on Tyler’s bed. They didn’t have proof it was Liam though, so his mom just told him to stay away from Liam.

The police also ask if Tyler was jealous of Olivia hanging out with Liam and they ask about Tyler’s history of getting into fights.

Chapters 37 – 39

Meanwhile, Olivia doesn’t know when her captor will be back so she’s decided to ration the small amount of food he’s given her. She also starts digging at the dirt around her in the hopes of creating a mound large enough to get her out.

With the police searching the house, Erika takes the kids from school and over to McDonald’s for lunch. She warns Liam that the police want his phone and that they’ll be able to see any deleted messages.

When they arrive at home, the detectives take Liam’s phone. They then go to see the lawyer they’ve retained, John Landon. He tells them that the police intend to make an arrest in the next 24 hours. He also says that someone named Richard Young, a former English teacher of Liam’s when he was 13, has a complaint about Liam too. The attorney then asks to speak with Liam privately.

Chapter 40

In a police interview with Richard Young, he describes how he has a daughter who is Liam’s age, and Liam started hanging out with her. He never liked Liam, so he told her to stay away from her, and when he didn’t, he started giving Liam bad grades and Lily stopped speaking to Liam.

Richard thought it was fine, but one day early in the morning his household ended up with carbon monoxide poisoning from a crack in a radiator and their detector had been disconnected. One of their neighbors said they saw a kid lurking around their house. But there wasn’t proof.

Finally, Richard ended up giving Liam an A in English since it wasn’t worth dying over.

Chapters 41 – 42

At home, Erika looks at a photo of her father that she’s kept by her bedside because she didn’t realize what type of man he really was. She thinks of how much Liam looks like him.

She calls her mom to ask about her father. Erika then realizes that perhaps understanding her father will help her to understand her son. She them asks Frank to help her locate her father, Marvin Holick.

Olivia is weak and dehydrated. She needs to dig though so she reluctantly takes one of the bones from the body, which she has nicknamed Phoebe, to help her.

Chapters 43 – 45

At 5AM in the morning someone throws a rock through the kitchen window of the Cass house with the word MURDERER attached to it. Soon the doorbell rings and it’s Detective Rivera who is there to arrest Liam. She cuffs him and takes him away.

Landon tells them that the police apparently found traces of Olivia’s hair and blood in their trunk.

That night, Hannah admits to Erika that she knew her mom hired someone to scare off any girls that Liam liked, since one of them told her about it and she pieced together it was likely her mom. Hannah worries for Liam, and Erika thinks about how no matter what Liam was he has always been fiercely protective of Hannah.

Before bed, Erika tells Jason about her father being alive and the circumstances of his imprisonment. She says she worries Liam may have gotten it from her father. Jason says he doesn’t believe Liam did it, but Erika senses his doubt for the first time.

Chapters 46 – 49

Olivia is nearly out of food and drink, but with the mound she’s dug, she can reach the trap door, though it’s locked. However, she’s hoping she can pound at it until it breaks.

In the morning, the news of Liam’s arrest has spread. Online there’s discussions of Liam’s past transgressions, with a few defenses of him mixed in. Their house has also been graffitied. Brian from the newspaper also suggests that Erika take a hiatus until things blow over. Erika also gets a phone call threatening Hannah’s safety.

Erika shows up at the courthouse for Liam’s bail hearing. The prosecutor, Cynthia Feinstein, argues against bail. Bail is set at $200,000, and they put up the money. When they get home, Mrs. Mercer is there with a knife, demanding to know where her daughter is. Jason manages to talk her down and lead her out of the house.

Chapter 50

In a police interview with Hannah Cass, she defends her brother, saying the hamster incident was not that big of a deal and that the English teach was mistaken about that being Liam’s doing. She also says that whatever Tyler says is garbage because he’s a terrible person. She says that Tyler was a jerk to a friend of hers that wouldn’t go out with him, and when Hannah tried to get him to stop, he started hassling her as well.

Chapters 51 – 56

That day, Erika gets calls all day, though she doesn’t answer. However, when Jessica Martinson calls her, she picks up, though Jessica just chides her for putting up the bail for Liam. Frank also calls and gives her Marvin Holick’s address.

Olivia is exhausted from trying to break the trap door and is out of food and water. Her captor arrives finally and gives her a tiny amount of water and a slice of bread. He tells her he’ll be back in a few days and reminds her that it’s futile to waste her energy trying to escape.

The next day, Erika tells Jason’s she’s going out, but doesn’t tell him that she’s planning on visiting her father. On the way, her mother calls, horrified to hear about the news about Liam.

At Marvin’s place, an old man answers the door. She tells him she’s his daughter, Erika, and he invites her in. They make small talk, and he finally offers to tell her about what landed him in jail. He says he had an affair with a woman named Nancy who got pregnant and threatened to tell his wife about it. His friend gave him some pills to slip to her to hopefully abort the baby, but the pills killed her.

Afterwards, Erika thinks that Marvin doesn’t really seem like a sociopath.

Jason calls that night to say he’s running late since investors have heard about Liam and he’s busy putting out fires. A few hours later, at 8:30, Liam comes to her in tears and says he can take her to where Olivia might be. She wants to call the police or Jason, but Liam insists that just the two of them go.

Chapter 57

Olivia realizes she’s going to die of dehydration. But then she hears a female voice. It’s Hannah. She opens the trap door. She says she followed “him” here last night, which is how she found Olivia. They start to leave, when they realize “he” is here too.

Olivia’s captor arrives, and it turns out to be Hannah’s father, Jason.

Chapter 58

Jason thinks about how Liam takes after him. He married Erika in hopes of a normal life. The first time he killed someone was a girl named Michelle when he was 14.

Unlike how Liam went to therapy, Jason’s parents tried to deal with him by locking him in the basement, beating him and even hiring an exorcist. He ended up killing his parents in a fire and was sent to live his grandmother.

The skeleton in the hole with Olivia is Hallie Barton, a hitchhiker he picked up.

Jason wanted Liam to go to jail for abducting Olivia because he didn’t want Liam to end up back in a shrink’s office and to figure out that he gets it from his father. It’s the same reason he gave the English teacher’s family carbon monoxide poisoning. He thinks Liam is reckless and wants him in jail already so he doesn’t have to worry about him being at a shrink and having them figure out it’s a reflection of him.

Jason had abducted Olivia by telling her that Liam didn’t come home after meeting up with her, and he asked her to be an extra set of eyes as he drove around looking for him. When she got in the car, he chloroformed her.

With Hannah here, however, his plans have changed. He’s going to make it look like Liam killed Hannah for discovering the plot with Olivia. And he’ll go ahead and make it look like Erika took a bunch of pills in grief after realizing the truth about her son. That way Liam will be in jail and the other two, plus Olivia, will be dead. He won’t have to deal with any of them anymore.

Chapters 59 – 62

Erika follows Liam’s directions to a cabin in the woods. She sees Hannah’s bicycle outside and Jason’s car parked outside. Liam finally explains that Hannah followed Jason last night. Liam says that Jason is crazy, and he’s rarely at work.

They then see Jason come outside. He says that Olivia and Hannah are dead and he accuses Liam of being the perpetrator.

Liam then lunges at Jason to get a knife out of his hands. Erika ends up with the knife as the two wrestle. They both ask her to give them the knife. Finally, Erika gives it to Liam, who stabs Jason in the chest.

They then run into the cabin and see that Hannah and Olivia are both in the pit and both still alive. Liam helps Hannah and Olivia out of the hole. Outside, they see Jason lying on the floor, dead.

Chapter 63

In a police interview with Erika Cass, Erika claims that she was the one who stabbed Jason. The police say that they’re not planning on pressing charges at this time, but they tell her they know she’s just protecting Liam.

Chapter 64

Erika knows she lied to the police, but she blames herself for marrying Jason and never seeing through his lies. She’s also ashamed of believing that Liam had abducted Olivia.

Afterwards, they talk and Erika thanks Liam for saving her even though she knows the psychiatrist once told her that Liam was incapable of feeling things like love. However, Liam disagrees with that and says that he loves Erika and Hannah, and for once Erika believes him.

Meanwhile, Olivia has been in the hospital. Liam has come by to see her, but her mother hasn’t let him anywhere near her. However, he’s back again, and Olivia insists on seeing him today, saying that he saved her life. He comes by with some flowers.

They agree to go on another date when she’s out of the hospital.


A year later, Jason’s DNA has now been linked to 12 murders over the last 25 years. Erika ended up writing a book, Wife of a Serial Killer. Liam and Olivia are still together. Liam was in Albany last night.

On the radio, she hears about a missing girl, Kayla Rogers, from a town called Troy in upstate New York on Saturday. She maps it on her phoner and sees that Troy and Albany are 16 minutes apart. And she wonders if it could have been Liam.

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