Review: S J Bolton – Dead Scared

dead scared_500x760SJ 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.

Thanks to the publisher Transworld for the copy of my book. Other reviews can be found at Petrona and Notes of Life both of whom also comment on the compelling nature of the ending.

26 thoughts on “Review: S J Bolton – Dead Scared

  1. I have loved both of the Bolton novels I’ve read – the opening of the first is still something I can remember vividly several years later (not often I contemplate the logistics it must take to bury a horse) and the rest lived up to it. The second one was even better. I really like the way she writes what are, as you say, books that don’t fit neatly into the confines of a strict genre and you have reminded me that I should read the two of hers I still have sitting here unread…not to mention this one which has yet to make its way here. On top of everything she is writing standalones and I am so keen on books that aren’t in series I really should promote her to the top of my pile


  2. Margot Kinberg

    Sarah – An excellent review for which thanks. One of the things I like about Bolton’s characters is the fact that while certainly vulnerable, they’re not stereotypical self-destructive people. And you’re quite right that she balances painting vivid portraits without crossing the line into gratuitousness. To me that makes her work all the more absorbing.


  3. Intriguing review – I’ll have to take the plunge and read SJ Bolton as well. The only thing that puts me off (it’s a silly reason, I know) is that, by all accounts, I am going to enjoy this author so much that I will want to read all of the books, which wreaks havoc with all of my other reading plans…


  4. An excellent review. The fact that you don’t always start with the first book in a series gives me courage to take that approach myself. Sometimes the first book is harder to find. This author had already come to my attention, but you have moved her closer to the top of my list of books to look for.


    1. I’m not sure I really like books where you *have* to start them in the beginning. Most books should be able to read as standalones, although some series e.g Martin Beck, make more sense of you start them at the beginning.


      1. Some series I like because I like to see the growth and changes in the continuing characters. But it does cause problems in trying to go back and read a long series. I have always been a stickler for reading in order, but…as I get older, I realize I am going to have to give up on some of that or I won’t get to read all the authors and books that I want to. I hope to have many more years of reading, but you never know.


  5. SJ Bolton has been under the radar for me -the name is familiar but haven’t thought to try the books – but your recommendation makes me want to. (Just what I need – more books on the pile. Curses, Sarah.)


  6. This sounds very promising – there’s nothing like curling up and finishing a whole book in a day, it’s not something that happens very often but I managed it last weekend in the snowy weather. There’s no better review for a book than learning it’s engaging enough to read in a single sitting.


    1. I hadn’t really thought of this as a campus mystery per se Prashant and I’d put it more in the genre of psychological thrillers although there is a touch of ‘Gaudy Night’ about this book which I hadn’t thought of before.


  7. I’m glad you enjoyed this one! I know I did 🙂

    If you enjoyed the Lacey Flint character then Sharon (S.J. Bolton) also wrote a short story which was released at the end of this year (on Kindle) called If Snow Hadn’t Fallen.

    P.S. – Thanks for the link to my review. Much appreciated!


  8. kathy d.

    I haven’t read Bolton and “creepy” isn’t an adjective I look for in my reading. But this review has garnered my curiosity so I think I’ll check out an earlier book.


  9. Pingback: The Best of February’s Reading | crimepieces

  10. Pingback: Review: S J Bolton – Like This For Ever | crimepieces

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