SJ Bolton is an author that I’ve been meaning to try for a while. Her books are both popular sellers but also garner decent reviews which is a difficult balance to achieve. This week I read Dead Scared almost in one sitting which is an achievement for a crime novel these days. However the tension and narrative style made this book almost impossible to put down.
When a Cambridge student sets herself alight, police are convinced that there is someone behind the abnormally high suicides that have taken place at the university. DC Lacey Flint is sent to Cambridge posing a depression-prone student in an attempt to discover if there are darker forces encouraging students to take their own lives. However, DI Mark Joesbury is concerned for her welfare, particularly as Lacey has been sent in without having been given all the facts about the girls’ deaths. The only person at the University who is aware of Lacey’s true identity is psychiatrist Evi Oliver. However, Evi is suffering from her own emotional problems and is convinced that someone is watching her. When Lacey starts to experience the same nightmares as the other dead girls, it is clear that her own sanity and life are in danger.
Because I’m not used to Bolton’s writing it was difficult at the start to work out if I was reading psychological thriller with a supernatural element. This wouldn’t have bothered me, but as the novel progressed it became clear that the women involved were being manipulated by forces that although malevolent were almost certainly from flesh and blood adversaries. This is the most compelling aspect of the book. We feel the disorientation of the two professional women – Evi and Lacey – as they try and make sense of the suicides while feeling under attack themselves. Lacey has appeared in a previous book by Bolton and although there are references to this throughout Dead Scared it made me want to read Now You See Me.
The relationship between Lacey and Mark Joesbury is intriguing. Much is made of the ‘impossibility’ of any relationship developing but in this book at least, it’s not clear why. However the sense of attraction comes across clearly. All the characters are well developed and I particularly liked the portrayal of the burned girl lying in the hospital bed. It is rare in crime fiction that you get such a poignant portrayal of a victim and I thought it admirable that Bolton managed to get over the extent of the girl’s injuries without it seeming gratuitous.
The ending really was ‘unputtdownable’ and I guess my only complaint would be that I was left slightly stunned at the end. This is almost certainly a good thing.