Monday, April 25, 2022

Book Review: What Happened to the Bennetts

By Jami Denison

After taking a detour into historical fiction with her World War II novel Eternal, author Lisa Scottoline has returned to her mystery roots with her latest novel, What Happened to the Bennetts. Although former lawyer Scottoline has published about a book a year since her debut in 1994, she often returns to themes about trust and family secrets, and plots involving organized crime and law enforcement. Bennetts will be a familiar read for Scottoline fans. 

Court reporter Jason Bennett is driving his family home in his new Mercedes when the unthinkable happens—he’s carjacked, and in the melee, his teenage daughter Allison is shot and soon dies in a hospital operating room. Jason, his wife Lucinda, and pre-teen son Ethan have no time to mourn her—the FBI shows up in the middle of the night, explaining that the carjackers are members of a notorious crime family that now has it out for Jason. They’re sprinted away and into witness protection, unable to tell family and friends what happened or communicate with them. 

As their community pleads on social media for answers and a citizen reporter starts asking questions, Jason learns that the attack against them might not have been random after all. And with the FBI refusing to answer his questions, he’s forced to go at it alone to find out what really happened and get justice for his daughter. 

I had expected What Happened to the Bennetts to unfold like a typical domestic thriller, but the novel turned into a political thriller about halfway through. The visual set pieces come quickly, giving the book the feel and pacing of a movie or a show like Reacher. Because of this, it’s a very quick read—the literary equivalent of a bag of potato chips. You can’t stop eating them, but when the bag is finished, you’re still hungry.

Scottoline gives Jason a bit of a character arc—he’s a cautious guy in the beginning, a man who quit law school because he didn’t want to go into debt. As the story develops, he has to break rules and confront the bad guys himself. Still, the story is very external, focusing almost exclusively on the plot. The grief over Allison’s death feels almost perfunctory as Jason rushes around Pennsylvania and Delaware, shaving his head, spying on the bad guys, and trying to track down the big bad.

The story is Jason’s alone, and told from his first-person point-of-view. Because of this, the reader never feels that his life is truly in danger. I found myself wishing that Scottoline had roped in additional points-of-view, especially from his wife, Lucinda, who had secrets of her own. 

As a writer, Scottoline is a machine, and Bennetts could be considered a master class in plotting. It’s a great book for a flight or a beach read—you’ll turn the pages quickly, but when the book is done, the story is over. 

Thanks to Putnam for the book in exchange for an honest review.

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