Scottoline’s work is never entirely predictable, and her new novel is no exception. A favorite author for women’s fiction, Scottoline uses the particularities of female experience to enrich her plots and capture her reader’s sympathy. Given the author’s penchant for extravagant plots, an edit of storyline would not be remiss in a tale that goes from elementary school bullying to character assassination via Facebook, the near-death of a child and a nefarious plot to cover up a crime.
It all begins with Rose McKenna and her eight-year-old daughter, Melly. Acutely self-conscious of the port wine birthmark on her cheek, Melly is the object of bully Amanda Gigot. When Rose is serving as lunch monitor at the girls’ elementary school, Amanda is especially cruel. In an effort to address Amanda’s actions in the moment, Rose takes the girl aside as her daughter rushes to the shelter of a restroom. At that moment, an explosion blows a hole in the cafeteria, Amanda and another child falling to the cafeteria floor near Rose. Melly is locked inside the restroom where she sought refuge. Suddenly Rose is faced with an impossible choice: which child to save, Amanda or Melly?
Scooping up Amanda and the other classmate, Rose ushers both to a hallway, returning for Melly. But Amanda goes back inside for some reason and is hurt by falling debris. Now Rose’s actions are scrutinized by Amanda’s parents, the school officials worried about liability, formerly friendly neighbors and strangers on Facebook, morphing from heroine to monster before she can even ascertain her daughter’s condition. It goes from bad to worse, with Melly home from the hospital but Amanda in critical condition. Amanda’s widowed mother, Eileen, rants freely on TV news interviews and Facebook postings, Rose realizing she must tough out the consequences of her decision for her daughter’s sake.
When other inexplicable events occur, Rose is left questioning why a gifted teacher has suddenly quit her job - and what caused the explosion in the first place. This is where Scottoline loses touch with her plotline. Rose turns Nancy Drew-slash-superhero, sleuthing out the skullduggery behind the explosion, plunging into the dangerous territory of unscrupulous men who aren’t afraid to kill to keep a secret. What??? Honestly, she had me at the explosion and the horrible circumstances that leave little bully Amanda fighting for her life: “The mob doesn’t need burning torches and clubs anymore. It’s trial by Facebook.”
The author is on solid ground when it comes to what women believe in and fight for. But the wild foray into detectiveland borders on the ridiculous, especially after the conflagration that leaves Rose in fear for her daughter’s safety. There are two plots afoot: the impossible choice at the time of the explosion and public opinion, and the fly-by-the-seat-of-her-pants investigation into a general contractor and the policies of a corporation. It’s all way over the top by the finale. The story could actually have delivered a solid punch if edited properly - but then it wouldn’t be Lisa Scottoline.