S. J. Bolton
Published by Minotaur Books
Available June 5, 2012
Available on Amazon.com
Thanks to NetGalley for the preview.
4 / 5 cupcakes
I really liked this book, but it frustrated me. Bolton does so many things well – creates characters we care about, crafts a suspenseful atmosphere and mood, keeps us turning the pages. But there are some issues here, and those are what cause me to give this four cupcakes, rather than five.
Dead Scared is the follow up to Now You See Me, but you can read this without having read its predecessor (I did, although I will say I am intrigued by what the first book might have included). Lacey Flint – evidently not her real name, and while we are told that she can’t tell us her real name, we are not told why – is in her late twenties but can pass for five or so years younger. Based on that, her superiors (including Mark Joesbury, who is or is not a prospective love interest – he and Lacey seem to dance around that idea) send her undercover to Cambridge to see what she can find out about a rash of suicides. She is not to investigate; she just needs to gather information.
Well, you can’t keep a good DC down, so naturally Lacey begins to investigate. And here is where the plot becomes a wee tad convoluted. Okay, a LOT convoluted.
First, there is a school psychiatrist, Evi Oliver, who is physically disabled (which is another mystery of sorts) and who counseled some of the girls who killed themselves. Evi herself is being attacked by Forces Unknown: she receives frightening messages written on her bathroom mirror, hears strange noises, and seems to be spied upon.
Then we have Nick Bell, the doctor treating one of the girls who attempted suicide. Is he a good guy, or is he up to no good?
The story skips back and forth across time, going into the heads of characters whose identities are revealed in the book’s final act. This background intel helps us understand why the bad guys do what they do and what the girls think and feel as they kill themselves. It’s eerie and disturbing, to say the least.
There are red herrings GALORE here, so don’t get attached to someone you think might be the villain. Some of the “gotchas” are a little far fetched, but some make you think, “Oh, now I get it.” Those are the good ones.
As for Lacey and Mark, we want more of them. They spend very little time together, and that’s frustrating. We need to see them work more as a team. Lacey sends email reports to Mark, and those moments are when we connect with him, because he is kept on the fringes of this novel (and that’s why I want to read the first one – I hope to get to know Mark better).
Bolton peppers the book with some humor and a little romance, here and there. Lacey’s initial exposure to Oxford is humorously detailed: “He’d taken pity on me earlier as I’d stood at the painted-arched doorway, feeling like an extra in a Harry Potter movie in my borrowed gown.”
Dead Scared will keep you on the edge of your seat, furiously turning pages to find out the villain’s identity. We also want to know what happens to Evi, who is beset upon by all manner of sadness and struggles. And Lacey, who, at the start of the book, appears to be about to jump to her death.
This is a good mystery that could have been told more effectively. The jumps in time and perspective get jumbled, and you have to make a HUGE leap to accept what has been happening to these girls. It’s a little too fantastical to believe. Still, though, it’s good. And I do like Lacey and Mark – I just want more of them together.