S. J. Bolton: Dead Scared (2012)

Dead Scared

Dead Scared was my third novel by S.J. Bolton. It’s the second novel featuring Lacey Flint and DI Mark Joesbury. I liked Sacrifice and Now You See Me a lot, but I really loved Dead Scared. I think it’s one of my all-time favourite crime novels. It’s got everything I like in a plot-driven crime novel. Great setting, evocative atmosphere, appealing characters, a well-paced plot and a really great story. For once she didn’t even stretch believability all that much.

Evi Oliver is a student counsellor at the university of Cambridge. She has contacted the police because she is alarmed that so many female students commit suicide. Maybe there is an internet community or a group that drives them to take their own lives? The police don’t know what to make of this and decide to send an undercover agent who will pretend to be a vulnerable young student. Lacey Flint seems the right choice. Nobody but Evi knows her identity and even Evi doesn’t know her name.

What is striking in this series of suicides is that the young women choose very violent forms, which are not typically chosen by women. Just when Lacey arrives another woman has tried to take her life. She set herself on fire but could be saved. She has been severely burned and it’s not sure she will survive.

As soon as Lacey moves into her room, she starts to feel weird. It does make her nervous to pretend to be a young student and the many suicides are quite creepy. Additionally she’s targeted right away and becomes the victim of a rather sinister student prank. The fact that she doesn’t sleep well, has peculiar nightmares and wakes feeling groggy doesn’t help either.

After some investigations, Lacey concludes that Evi isn’t imagining things. It’s even possible that there is no online community but that there is something  much more threatening at work. When Evi is suddenly being stalked it becomes obvious that the situation is very dangerous for the two women.

Dead Scared is set in the university milieu of Cambridge and the way Bolton described the city is very evocative, giving the book traits that could have been taken from a Gothic novel.

As readers know from the first Lacey Flint/DI Joesbury book, Lacey isn’t exactly who she seems to be. She’s tough but due to a troubled past also very fragile. The relationship between Lacey and Joesbury intensifies in this book and is even more important than in the first.

The idea behind the crimes is really great and I wondered the whole time what was going on. I had a feeling but still kept on turning pages as quickly as I could.

I had barely finished the book when I already ordered the next in the Lacey Flint series. I’m pretty sure it’s not one of those books that will stay on the unread books pile for long.