Title: Saving Ben
Author: Ashley Farley
Publication date: January 31st 2013
Genre: New Adult Contemporary Mystery
From the publisher—
Life is sweet for Katherine Langley. A freshman at the University of Virginia, she is free from the drama of her parents’ dysfunctional marriage and ready to focus on studying to become a nurse. Her brother, Ben, belongs to the hottest fraternity on campus, and her new roommate, Emma, is beautiful and charming, a party girl whose answer for a hangover is happy hour. She is also a psychopath. When Katherine’s obsessive-compulsive overprotective brother succumbs to Emma’s charms and falls dangerously off-track, Katherine must save Ben from himself. Lives are threatened and someone disappears on New Year’s Day. The only evidence left: a single set of footprints in the snow.
From the university campus to a cozy cottage on Carter’s Creek, Virginia, Saving Ben is a haunting tale of love and loyalty, anger management, substance abuse, and betrayal.
First, I saw in this book’s description that the story is set in Virginia. Then, I noticed that the author lives in Richmond, my town, so it was a no brainer—I had to read Saving Ben. After all, if my bookstore was still open, I’d be stocking this book and having Ashley Farley come by for a book signing event. Since I can’t do that, reading and reviewing it was my next best option and I admit to being a little bit biased from the beginning.
One of the real pleasures for me was recognizing locations, always a fun perk. Having spent a lot of time in my youth at the University of Virginia (known simply as “Virginia” to us natives), I enjoyed the time the characters spent there but also in Richmond and Carter’s Creek. The characters themselves were interesting and had depth so that I felt I had a pretty good handle on them and their individual behaviors. Kitty appealed to me a lot, especially her willingness to stand up for herself, and so did Ben in the early part of the tale. I always had empathy for Ben until an incident between him and Kitty but, even then, I felt badly about what he had allowed himself to become. Their circle of friends seemed to be likeable kids that most college students would like to hang out with.
Emma is probably the most well-drawn personality and certainly is frightening in her obsessions and her completely narcissistic attitude. For me, she was the cause of more than a little anxiety wondering what she would do next and who would suffer because of her actions. She is Ms. Farley’s strongest creation.
There were some shortcomings for me. First, I felt the mystery was kind of lightweight and the resolution was predictable along about two thirds or less of the way in. I think just as strong a story could have been done without the distraction of this mystery. Second, the rural cops are made out to be incompetent in the extreme, letting the kids rummage through Emma’s car and not taking charge of her belongings until well after they know she’s dead. I can’t help thinking that’s pretty disrespectful of our Northern Neck police and I’ve never heard or read any factual statements that would make me believe this portrayal of bad police work is accurate.
My next issue was that I thought Kitty is way too intelligent to put herself in such an obvious position of danger when she figures out who is responsible for what happened. When you get right down to it, this is a good example of the femjep—female in jeopardy—most mystery readers have begun to tire of. Also, Ben’s fraternity is initially referred to as KO but later the full name is given as Lambda Delta. I could be wrong about this and I apologize if I am but I think KO stands for Kappa Omicron.
Finally, the author makes drinking a nearly constant thing with no one, not even any of the adults, raising an eyebrow over all the underage use. I’m not idealistic enough to believe there’s not a lot of drinking among high school and college students (I do live in the real world) but it truly is excessive here. Virginia is a tough school and these students would not last with all this partying. I know Ms. Farley has been active in promoting alcohol and drug awareness so I understand her zeal but the point can be made with a little more reality.
Regardless of any failings, Saving Ben ultimately is about the strong bond that can exist between siblings and the harm that can be done to that bond by drugs and alcohol abuse. In that, Ms. Farley has done a fine job and I’ll look forward to reading more by this author.
Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, July 2013.
About the Author
I’m a wife and mother of two teenagers. I have lived in Richmond, Virginia, for seventeen years, a city I love for its history and traditions. Personal experience with my brother inspired me to become involved with the leadership symposium in my son’s school where I’ve helped bring in speakers to raise parents’ awareness of the alcohol and drug problems children face. When I’m not steering volunteer committees or working on my next novel, I can be found swimming laps or playing tennis.
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