Bolton, S J - 'Dead Scared'
Having read all of S J Bolton's previous novels (4 in total), I was really looking forward to reading the new one. The story is set in Cambridge, where there has been an unexpected increase in the suicide rate. Unusually, young female students are particularly affected, and they are committing suicide by using methods not normally associated with women.
As the book begins, DI Joesbury is racing to stop DC Lacey Flint (both characters from the last book NOW YOU SEE ME) from jumping off a church tower, in her own apparent suicide attempt. Then, the story moves backwards in time, to cover the events leading up to this event. Lacey is in Cambridge, posing as a student to try to find out more about the rash in suicides. Joesbury, part of a special London Task force investigating the suicides, has asked her to go undercover in one of the Cambridge colleges. They have a strong attraction for each other, which they are both reluctant to act on, and this feeds into the story. Lacey has to report back to Joesbury on a regular basis by e-mail, but what she doesn't know is that Joesbury is in fact staying in Cambridge, not far away. Then she starts to experience some of the delusions, including the feeling that someone is watching her, which some of the previous women have felt before committing suicide. Is she investigating, or has she been put there as bait?
Meanwhile Evi Oliver, a psychiatrist (from an earlier book - BLOOD HARVEST), is also experiencing feelings of being watched. She is working at the University counselling centre, and living in a University house, has had several of the suicidal women as patients, and is highly concerned about the increase in suicides. She is helping with the investigation, and has regular meetings with Lacey. For some reason, Evi has a bizarre fear of pine cones, a fear that she has not told anyone except one colleague she is seeing, for her own counselling after events in BLOOD HARVEST. Someone seems to know about it however, and has not only managed to enter her house to leave a trail of pine cones, but then somehow manages to fill her bath with blood (a reminder of events in BLOOD HARVEST). Who has managed to get into her house and do these things, or did she do them herself, and just not remember?Someone is playing tricks, playing with people's minds, distorting reality, and preying on people's fears. But why?
Gradually, Lacey pushes forward, discovering as much as she can about the previous suicides, and even garnering a few clues from one girl, who tried to commit suicide by setting light to herself, but was saved by a quick thinking doctor. But the more she finds out, the more her own life becomes under threat, leading to the situation described at the start of the book. Does she end up on the church tower by choice, or is something or someone making her do it?
As usual, Bolton is adept at racking up the psychological tension. Lacey and Evi both try to maintain their equilibrium, as they struggle to come up with rational explanations for what happens to them. Lacey is an appealing character, strong and determined, and keen to uncover what's going on, with or without anyone's help. The book is well written, the story moves forward at a fast pace that keeps the reader involved, and there are a few surprises. However, overall I have to admit I was a bit disappointed in the book, and felt rather dissatisfied and let down on finishing it. I didn't particularly warm to the overall plot line (suicides of pretty young women). There were a few plot holes, or parts to the story that were just a bit unbelievable. For example, I couldn't understand why anyone investigating the suicides, who had the slightest bit of common sense, wouldn't quickly realise that the amount of planning and methods of suicide used by some of the victims, meant they were unlikely to be suicides. Other events, and in particular towards those towards the end of the book really stretched the imagination just a bit too far, or were just a bit too obvious. The underlying motive for the crimes, partly explained by interspersed chapters that describe the perpetrator's earlier experiences of a father's suicide, and the final denouement, were all just a bit unsatisfactory. Overall, I think this is a book worth reading if you like psychological thrillers, and don't mind suspending all common sense.
Michelle Peckham, England