Lisa Scottoline’s Save Me starts with a situation that could affect almost anyone, and that hooked me immediately. Rose McKenna volunteers as a lunch mom at the school her daughter Melly attends, and notices a girl called Amanda making fun of Melly’s large port-wine birthmark. In tears, Melly runs down a hallway to the bathroom just as the bell rings for recess. Rose asks Amanda and her friends to stay behind so she can talk to them.
That’s when there’s an huge explosion in the staff lunchroom. When Rose wakes up a few seconds later, it’s to a smoke-filled room and three terrified girls right there with her… as well as her own daughter trapped at the end of the hallway. So, which kid do you save first? And will you have the time to save them all?
Rose manages the heroic – getting the three girls to an outer door, then running back for Melly. But after her daughter is whisked off to hospital, paramedics carry Amanda out of the school. The girl is badly injured and in a coma. Her grief-stricken mother holds Rose responsible, saying that if Rose hadn’t forced Amanda to stay indoors for a browbeating, this wouldn’t have happened. Other women agree, and before long Rose is a pariah being hounded on social media. Her husband, a lawyer, is inclined to take a worst-case-scenario approach, especially since the district attorney soon begins to question Rose.
And a difficult enough situation turns to a nightmare when a reporter digs up the fact that when Rose was eighteen, she caused the death of a child who ran out in front of her car.
So, all this was gripping reading. Melly is very likable, especially her fascination with Harry Potter because he also has a facial mark. And while I sympathized with Rose, I could also understand how Amanda’s mother felt. There’s no easy answer to the question that jump-starts everything, because the parents of the other girls feel that Rose had a duty towards all the students, not just her daughter. I was curious about how the book would develop this.
Well, unfortunately, it doesn’t. Rose is honest, sweet, and inclined to believe the best of everyone. She’s innocent of everything she’s accused of, and the kind of person who won’t do anything morally wrong like threatening to sue the school. She’s so nice, in fact, that when her lawyer asks her to bring her infant son to a meeting with the district attorney, and the lawyer privately calls the son Exhibit A, it upsets her. Her son is a baby, not an exhibit.
I wanted to tell her, ‘This is a criminal defense lawyer, not a pony made of ice cream.’
So because Rose is absolutely not going to play any kind of legal hardball that might harm the school, she decides to investigate the cause of the explosion herself. This was like a Nancy Drew novel where our spunky heroine puts on a disguise and infiltrates some nefarious organization. And it all climaxes with Rose running for her life through a steam-filled factory because she’s being chased by a murderer who wields a hook. Yes, a hook. I just wanted a crocodile to make an appearance at that point. The book tells us that every mom is a superhero, but if this is the case, start with the superheroism, rather than with the less epic but (to me) more interesting question of which child you save first. And whether you’re prepared for the consequences of your choice.
Oh, and about the cause of the explosion. If the villain kills a dozen innocent people to wipe out a single target, I’ll keep reading. But if the villain kills those people while the target gets away, and if I can think of any number of ways his scheme could fail, he’s not a credible threat. Hook-wielding minion notwithstanding.
With an ending that wraps everything up in a warm and wonderful bow, the second half of Save Me didn’t live up to the promise of its first half, where the legal and moral dilemnas were growing by the day. That was a disappointment, so despite this book’s good points, I can’t quite recommend it.