Picks and Pans Review: Blood Relations

updated 08/17/1987 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 08/17/1987 AT 01:00 AM EDT

by John Greenya

The story recounted in these two disturbing books would seem like a bad TV-movie plot if it weren't true. Steven Benson is the son of the wealthy and indulgent tobacco tycoon Edward Benson and his heiress wife, Margaret, who lived outside Lancaster, Pa. At an early age Steven realized he was gifted when it came to electronics. His mother would proudly remember being called to his room one day so he could show off a television set he had built. Steven totally lacked finesse, though, when dealing with people. He grew into an avaricious man with a pathetically unsuccessful history in the business world as well as two failed marriages. By 1985 he was 34 and had wasted a small fortune on a series of businesses. Benson's father died in 1980, and his mother helped finance Steven's companies until she found out he was tunneling money into his own pocket. She threatened to cut him out of her will. On July 9, 1985, at the family home in Naples, Fla., Steven planted two 27-pound pipe bombs in his mother's station wagon, to be triggered by an electronic device. They killed his mother and his nephew, Scott, 21—who had been portrayed as Steven's brother after he was born illegitimately to Steven's older sister, Carol Lynn. Carol Lynn was severely injured in the explosion but survived and helped convict her brother of murder. He is now serving two consecutive life terms in prison. Carol Lynn asked Greenya to recount the family's story, and his smoothly written volume portrays the Bensons sympathetically, as a wealthy American family with emotional troubles not uncommon to other American families. Greenya, who has written or co-written nine other books, provides more details of the trial than Andersen, author of six previous books and a former PEOPLE senior editor. Andersen offers a compilation of character studies and a more jaundiced view of the Bensons. (His technique sometimes makes it difficult to follow the chronology of events.) The two versions of the story create the same effect on a reader, however: revulsion. Nobody who reads them is ever going to be able to look the same way at that eccentric bunch of rich folks down the street. (Andersen: Harper & Row, $16.95; Greenya: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, $17.95)

From Our Partners