I’m one of those readers who enjoys a gripping psychological thriller, so, when I came across Sam Carrington’s début novel, Saving Sophie, I leapt at the chance to review it. Unfortunately, I can’t say I enjoyed it very much. While the plot itself had a good deal of potential, the author’s lackluster prose and some truly bizarre decisions made by the story’s two main characters had me rolling my eyes on several occasions.
For the past two years, suburban mother Karen Finch has been struggling with debilitating panic attacks that make leaving her home nearly impossible. It all started after Karen, a parole officer at the time, was brutally attacked. She barely managed to escape before her attacker sexually assaulted her, and she now lives in abject fear. Her husband Mike and teenaged daughter Sophie have both tried to be supportive of Karen, but they’re growing impatient with what they see as her inability to get better.
One evening, obviously intoxicated seventeen-year-old Sophie is escorted home by two police officers. The police say they found her wandering around alone not far from a local nightclub and brought her home so nothing would happen to her. Karen is unsure how this could have happened. Sophie was supposed to be spending the evening with a group of her friends, so how did she get separated from them? Sophie herself is unable to remember any of the evening’s events, something her parents find suspicious. Still, they decide to let her sleep it off, hoping her memory will improve in the morning. But a good night’s sleep does not restore Sophie’s memories, and Karen’s concern continues to mount.
In an attempt to learn the truth about what happened to Sophie, Karen uses social media to contact a number of her daughter’s friends. No one reveals much, other than the fact that they helped Sophie find a taxi a little over two hours before the police escorted her home. So, what happened during those two hours? Karen also learns that Amy, one of Sophie’s best friends, hasn’t been seen since shortly after Sophie supposedly went home in a taxi, and, when police find the body of a young woman not far from where Amy was last seen, Karen is sure it must be Amy.
Sophie is shaken up by her friend’s disappearance, but is also dealing with some drama of her own. Someone is emailing her very disturbing photographs. They’re sexually suggestive, but, even more disturbing are the memories that slowly begin to come back to her. Is it possible she knows more than she originally thought about what happened to Amy? Karen and the police certainly think so, but Sophie stubbornly refuses to tell anyone what she suspects. She deletes the photos and goes about her business like normal.
When the identity of the victim is made known, both Sophie and Karen are astonished to learn that it is not Amy. Instead, it’s Erin, another good friend of Sophie’s, and the daughter of Karen’s long-time friend Rachel. Amy’s whereabouts are suddenly discovered, and I wondered why the author chose to mention her disappearance at all. Perhaps it was to give the story an added element of mystery, but I found it unnecessarily convoluted.
As the police investigate Erin’s death, it soon becomes apparent that Sophie isn’t the only one keeping secrets, and several of her friends seem to know more than they’re telling about that night. I know teenagers can be secretive, but the lengths these kids go to in order to hide the truth seems over the top, and I struggled to suspend my disbelief as I read. The author doesn’t do much to explain exactly why no one is willing to tell the truth, and this made the actions of the characters even harder for me to take seriously. I want to know why people do the things they do, and, even if I don’t agree with their motivations, I almost always find it helpful to know what they are.
We see things mostly from Sophie’s and Karen’s points of view, but there are a few chapters told from the perspective of the detective in charge of the investigation. I normally enjoy reading books with a police presence, but this particular detective was two-dimensional at best. We know nothing of her back story, and she has next to no personality; we’re given a few hints that her home life is troubled, but the author never expands upon them. Chapters from her point of view could have added some depth to the novel, but they served only to increase the page count.
I found both Karen and Sophie difficult to like. Neither of them makes reasonable decisions, and both have a very strange aversion to telling the truth. They go to extreme lengths to keep secrets that, once I figured out what they were, seemed utterly trivial. Even Karen’s panic attacks are two-dimensional, seeming to exist only as a way to create conflict between Karen and her family.
Saving Sophie does contain a couple of twists toward the end that are reasonably well-done, but they were too little too late. By the time they were revealed, I honestly didn’t care enough about the characters and their various plights to fully appreciate the story’s resolution. I was just glad to have finished the book so I could move on to something else.