REVIEW: Outcast by Joan Johnston
Dear Ms. Johnston:
I know I haven’t read you in a long time, but when I got an ARC of this book I confess that I just had to read it. Tall, dark, and gorgeous always does it for me. Thankfully, the characters lived up to the cover and despite some small problems here and there, I’m pretty much hooked on the “Fabulous Fourteen”.
Benjamin Benedict is one of fourteen kids between the mixed marriages of Foster Benedict and Abigail Coates Benedict Hamilton. Foster and Abby had five boys with the youngest, Darlington, dying at the age of 4. In the emotional year after Darlington’s death, Foster dallied with a waitress once and got her pregnant. Abby left him. They both remarried. Foster to Pasty Taggart and Abby to Senator Hamilton. Foster took Ben and Carter. Abby kept the youngest, Rhett, and the oldest, Nash, refused to leave his mother.
All of the Benedect boys (including Black Sheep, Ryan, the bastard) have gone to military school and then into the armed forces. Ben got out of the army and now is an agent for ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement), a division of homeland security. What Ben’s family doesn’t know is that he is suffering from severe PTSD. In the first third of the book, Ben suffers a series of horrific incidents. (I kept thinking during the opening scenes “Oh, this will not end well”). He’s ordered to see a psychiatrist before he will be allowed back onto the streets of Georgetown.
Dr. Annagreit Schuster is a Georgetown resident with a practice specializing in PTSD. She has her own demons which drove her to try to save those from personal tragedies. She is half chagrined and half excited to see that her new patient is Ben Benedict. She met him just a day before at a local vet when Ben had brought in an angry rottweiler he had found on the street, having been just struck by a vehicle. They went home together but Ben had a PTSD episode and left her, leaving Anna to think she would never see him again.
Anna recognizes that her strong attraction to Ben might cause ethical problems but she sees him as a man worth saving. As the story goes on, Anna sacrifices more and more of her principles and places her career in jeopardy to not only be with Ben but to see if she can help him. Obviously her motivation is a bit selfish, but it’s fascinating to watch Anna’s professional career unravel in an effort to save Ben while Ben’s career seems to be unraveling because he can’t heal.
Ben finds Anna to be a port in the storm. He can actually sleep when she is around. He feels calmer, more at peace than he has before even though she picks at him emotionally. Ben is a great character. It’s not that he doesn’t want to heal, but that he doesn’t know how. He recognizes his own PTSD symptoms which makes it easier for him to mask those feelings while in the company of others, but he is falling apart. I thought the scenes in which he breaks down and the different ways that Anna seeks to assist him were fascinating. Not every time called for comfort.
Anna does not want Ben on the streets because she thinks he’s a “ticking time bomb” but an Al Quaeda threat of a dirty bomb in DC requires Ben to follow up gang leads that he and his partner had developed. The suspense plot relies a bit heavily on coincidence but I put those complaints aside because the story moved quickly and the suspense plot was necessary to drive the emotional character arcs.
Despite the abbreviated time length of the story (it takes place over a week), I really believed that Anna and Ben belonged together. The romance and suspense were really well incorporated despite some contrivances and the speed at which Ben and Anna seem to recover from their respective emotional issues. Further, there were so many people in this story that I felt like I needed a scorecard. Non essential characters were given screenspace that I thought was unnecessary. There was too much sequel baiting and too many random people that were introduced only to be forgotten beyond one scene.
However, as I said at the beginning, I’m totally on board for the remaining stories of the Fabulous Fourteen. Their parents have screwed them up sufficiently that they will all have serious relationship issues!
I only have one request. None of the parents in this story but Patsy deserve a happy ever after ending. Abby, Ben’s biological mother was a heinous character. I felt like she had every bad thing coming to her after the way that she treated her kids. Truly what she did to Ben when his brother died was horrible. Ben had a lot of apologies coming his way that never materialized starting with Abby and his sister, Julia. B