Lisa Scottoline's latest novel Save Me starts off as a story about parental love and protection. It involves elements of childhood bullying, parental concerns, school responsibilities and other pertinent factors. As long as it is focused on these themes the book is better than average, but about a third of the way through it goes all Nancy Drew on us, and that is its downfall.
The book focuses on Rose McKenna. She is a stay-at-home mom and is married to an attorney named Leo. Rose has a daughter Melly from a previous marriage and a baby son, John, by Leo. Melly was born with a port wine birthmark on her face and she is very self conscious about it. Although she is only in the third grade she has already had her fair share of bullying by her classmates. It was so bad at their last school that the family moved to a new town hoping a new school would be better.
When the book opens Rose is volunteering in the lunchroom at Melly's school so she can keep an eye on her daughter and see if there is any bullying going on. There is. Another third grader named Amanda has decided it is her day to torment Melly and she is doing a good job of it. Rose goes up to where Amanda and her two friends are and tells them that bullying is not a good thing to do. Melly has run away from where they are.
Suddenly there is an explosion and Rose and the three girls are knocked down. When Rose regains consciousness the three girls are there but Melly is nowhere to be found. There is a fire and people are running for the exits. Rose is torn between helping the three girls who were tormenting Melly and going to search for Melly. In essence her quandary is which child she should save first.
All of this makes for fascinating reading. Scottoline does a fantastic job of making us understand Rose's predicament from the start. We immediately see the bond between mother and daughter and the protective instincts that arise. Later we are horrified that one of the parents is considering suing Rose because she did not do as much to help her daughter as the law requires.
It is when Rose begins to investigate the cause of the explosion and fire on her own that the book goes off into Nancy Drew land. There are authorities and lawyers available to do all this but Rose becomes a one woman investigative team. Through a series of events she uncovers a murder and several other nefarious acts.
Both of these elements of the book could have stood on their own but when they are combined into one story they clash. You start out reading a warm story of parental love and a mother's fierce need to protect her child and then you segue into the mystery of the month. It isn't a bad mystery solving story but it just doesn't belong in the same book with the other aspect.
Lisa Scottoline is a very good author but this time she just had one plot too many. This hurts the story rather than "saving" it.
SAVE ME is published by St Martin's Press. It contains 373 pages and sells for $27.99.