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.

S. J. Bolton: Now You See Me (2011)

Now You See Me

I’m one of those who is fascinated by the story of Jack the Ripper or rather its mystery. I’m sure, if the crime had been solved, I would care far less, but those many questions  – Who was it and how did he get away with it? Why did he stop? Why did he choose prostitutes? – will never be answered, it will always compel people to speculate and add their own interpretations.

S. J. Bolton must have felt the same fascination and Now You See Me, her take on Jack the Ripper, is a gripping read. DC Lacey Flint, her main protagonist, has always been interested in serial killers. Jack the Ripper is just one of them but one she’s studied in detail. 120 years to the day after Jack the Ripper has killed his first victim, a woman is savagely murdered in London. And DC Flint is the one to find her. Other victims follow, always on the same day the Ripper killed one of his victims. Is this new murderer a copy cat? Why is he interested in Lacey? 

Detectives Dana Tulloch and DI Mark Joesbury are in charge of the investigation. When they notice how much Lacey knows about the Jack the Ripper and that the murderer seems to take an interest in her, they include her in the investigation. Joesbury mistrusts her in the beginning, which is unfortunate for him, as he’s also attracted by her. He knows that Lacey had a troubled past. Not one that a police officer should have. She had problems with drugs and delinquencies are mentioned.

Now You See Me is a page-turner. A police procedural combined with a thriller, which makes for suspenseful reading. This isn’t my first S. J. Bolton. I’ve read Sacrifice before. While I really enjoyed both of her books, they are both flawed. There is always a moment in her books when believability is stretched just a tad too much. If she wasn’t so good at atmosphere, suspense and interesting characters, she wouldn’t get away with it, but since she is great at those three aforementioned elements, I forgive her easily and will certainly read another one.

Danielle wrote a great review of Now You See Me here.

Have you read S. J. Bolton? Which is your favourite?

This is my fifth RIP review. Don’t miss visiting the RIP review site for other Mystery/Crime/Thriller/Ghost/Dark Fantasy related reviews.

S.J. Bolton: Sacrifice (2008)

Danielle recently wrote about S.J. Bolton’s book Now You See Me and I really liked the tone of it and wanted to read one of her books. I got her first novel Sacrifice instead because I liked the idea of a book set on The Shetland Islands. I know some of the islands off the Scottish coast and I find the landscape incredibly beautiful.

Tora, an obstetrician from London, is married to a man from The Shetland Islands. Duncan hasn’t been living on the islands for over twenty years but now he wants to return and Tora follows him. She has found a job in a local clinic. They live in a house in the country, quite far away from any other houses or farms which doesn’t bother Tora too much as she grew up on a horse farm.

The novel opens with Tora trying to bury her beloved horse Jamie. While digging in the field she finds something utterly disturbing, namely a corpse wrapped in fabric. Whether the dead person has been lying in its peat grave since the earliest days of Shetland Civilization or been buried recently isn’t sure at first but the police soon find out, the body hasn’t been dead for longer than two years. When they unwrap the corpse they discover something quite grisly. The dead womans heart has ben cut out and there are runic symbols carved into the skin of her back. On top of that the dead woman must have given birth right before she was killed.

Tora is a very determined woman and the shock to find a body on her land triggers an urge to help find the killer. Being a doctor allows her to have access to much more information than even the police. She teams up with a police woman, Dana, also a foreigner, who has a hard time being accepted by the locals. The two women start to dig quite deep into some mysterious things. Tora’s investigation isn’t entirely legal but she can’t stop it, even less when she discovers that the dental records of a woman who has died of cancer two years ago match the records of the dead body in her peat field.

From the early moments in the novel, it’s obvious that Tora endangers herself with this investigation. And when she wakes one night and thinks that someone is in her bedroom, she is sure her life is threatened.

The fact that Tora lives in this lonely house on her own most of the time, because Duncan is away for work, heightens the feeling of threat. She and Dana stumble from one eerie discovery to the next and I really speeded through the 550 pages because I wanted to find out what was going on.

This is a book to read in almost one sitting, if you break the speed for a while, which I did, you lose momentum and the end might not go down so well. I saw Danielle reviewed Sacrifice here as well and there is a comment from the author saying that she herself wasn’t too sure about the ending (if you intend to read this book don’t read the authors’ comment it does give away a lot).

I can only say, this is a great read, if you rush through it but a part of the explanation was a disappointment for me. It’s too unbelievable. Still, the book works well on many levels. It’s very suspenseful and has a great atmosphere. Something I really liked was the description of the friendship between Tora and Dana. They both do not easily trust other people but they soon feel quite close. Also these are not your typical “women in jeopardy”, they are threatened but they are gutsy and can fight for themselves. Being threatened worries them but doesn’t keep them from going on. I might very well read another S.J. Bolton. Judging from the comment she left on Danielle’s blog, I could imagine, she did in her more recent books stay away from stretching believability too much.