Monday, 7 May 2012

Now You See Me by S.J. Bolton

Now You See Me (2011) (Bantam Press)
S. J. Bolton
Grade: A
Genre: gothic thriller crime
Sex scenes: n/a but again, even better sexual tension than Awakening
Source: Transworld/RHCB building / NetGalley
Lacey Flint: (1) Now You See Me

Jack the Ripper has become somewhat of a mythical figure since the days he stalked the streets of Whitechapel, disemboweling women in populated areas with not a single scream to give him away. As the theories have developed, the already murky truth got murkier as the stories distorted; Now You See Me lays out many of these theories and Ms Bolton follows the path of the one she feels is most credible, leaving the reader to question whether this take on history is indeed what really happened, and if not, which other theory might be right.

Most scholars agree that Jack was only responsible for five of the murders that took place; the others were the result of copycats. In Now You See Me, the killer is imitating the murders usually attributed to Jack, and the police - much like as they had been in the nineteenth century - are helpless to stop him.

When DC Lacey Flint finds an eviscerated (don't you love that word?) woman lying on her car - still alive - she's plunged into a murder investigation that she'd rather not be a part of. And not just because DI Mark Joesbury - however hot he might be - treats her like dirt. Scratch that - dirt probably got treated better than Lacey. Joesbury makes it clear that he doesn't want her on the investigation and Lacey wouldn't be there if she had a choice; she has strong reasons for wanting to continue her work with the rape crimes unit, but the killer's fixation with her pushes her ever further into the core team. When her childhood fascination with Jack the Ripper comes to light, it proves a valuable tool, and to her (and Joesbury's) chagrin, she is launched into the spotlight.

Heading the investigation is DI Dana Tulloch. She's recently transferred from Scotland after success in a big case saw her launched up the ranks. Her age, public image, case history and the severity of the case means heavy pressure from Scotland Yard; her instincts have pulled Lacey into the case, despite Joesbury's protests. It just so happens that she and Joesbury did their police training together and since the latter is recovering from an injury, she doesn't object when he decides to make himself part of the team. His instant disdain for Lacey verges on palpable and the pair are constantly sniping at one another, yet neither can deny the sexual tension that sparks between them.

As more women are killed in disturbingly similar ways to the original murders (this is a copycat, after all) clues and taunts continue to point at Lacey. It isn't long before she pieces together the facts to form two damning realisations: firstly, why these women, specifically, are being killed and; secondly, why the killer keeps pointing back to her. Knowing that both revelations will only serve to knock her off the favourite list and into the currently empty 'suspect' one, Lacey starts putting contingency plans into place for when her colleagues will inevitably make the connection. Unluckily for her, Joesbury is one step ahead of the rest and is convinced that Lacey is the one they've all been after ...

I loved this book. Ms Bolton described Lacey as an unreliable narrator and boy, is she ever. I can't remember reading a book through the eyes of such a protagonist and I reckon they're a rare breed considering how hard it must be to pull off without giving the game away prematurely. Ms Bolton had me convinced until the very last chapter (just like she said she would) thoroughly leaving me feeling like somebody had just wrung out my brain whilst simultaneously punching me in the gut. The vast majority of protagonists are at least truthful to the reader, if not in their interactions with other characters - not Lacey. I'd got sucked into autopilot and naively believed that what Lacey had said/done was of course the truth because she's the protagonist and why on earth would she lie to the reader? Christ, was that stupid. If you think her first revelation is shocking, then brace yourself, because that's nowhere near the last of it. Of course, you might be a lot more astute than I am and catch on a lot faster than me - not that that's too hard a challenge.

Since the protagonist is always in possession of knowledge that she's deliberately keeping secret, you would think that this literary device is an annoying one, but I didn't find this. The suspense just kept building up and I have to admit, there were a few times where I was almost persuaded by the argument that Lacey was 'Jack', even though I knew she was alibied or she just couldn't have done it because she's the heroine and the one supposed to be catching the killer, not doing the killing. At times, I admit that I can be quite a naive reader, in that I'll get so swept up in the action that I often won't take the time to reflect on what's been happening, because all I want to do is keep reading to get to the end. This is one of those cases. As mentioned in the previous paragraph, you might take the time to stop and consider all that's happened and form your own theories, but I wouldn't be surprised if you get just as hooked into the story as I was.

I like Lacey at the same time as not liking Lacey; it's a complicated relationship I have with her. She isn't exactly the type of girl you'd be best friends with (like Clara in Awakening) because she doesn't want to form any ties that can't be severed quickly and cleanly if she ever needs to reinvent herself. Literally. Lacey makes a concerted effort in the workplace to be invisible and this ironically only makes Joesbury notice her more. She's a strong heroine and she acts in a way that she thinks is best (whether for herself or those around her) though they're not always the smartest of paths to take. She's clever, astute and makes a great police officer, but as explained in the next paragraph, her mental state isn't in the best of shapes.

One thing that did disturb me more than a little about Lacey was her flippant (and that's not even the best word to describe it) attitude towards men. It's understandable once you've finished the book and got more (but definitely not all) of her story, but if she were a real person, I would be very concerned for her mental well-being. Lacey explains early in the book the reality of her sexual history:
"My early encounters with me and sex were abusive. Nothing so very unusual in that, but I realised some years ago that women with my history have a choice. All too often they become wary, fearful of intimacy of any sort, and then clingy and dependent if a decent man does come along. Some avoid men altogether, taking matters into their own hands, if you get my drift. Then there are those who take control ... all things considered, I'm not remotely scared of a bit of male aggression. I have more than enough of my own to counter it."
Ms Bolton (IMO) tackles prose very well. Despite the seriousness of the subject at hand here, Lacey's issued aren't brushed off lightly as the conversational tone might indicate. She doesn't explicitly state what happened to her and while it's quite clear what most people will assume from the extract above, that she's being so evasive causes warning lights to start whirring and makes you wary of finding out more.

I find Lacey's perceptions and treatment of men a tad worrying. While she's not a dominatrix, she knows what she wants, knows what men want and knows how to achieve both. Her casual sex with random men is more than a little risky in modern society, and while I have no doubt that she knows exactly how to protect herself (in more ways than one) it's not really something that you'd want to present in a do-it-yourself light. In saying this, I do think that Ms Bolton manages to capture Lacey's 'activities' in such a way that the reader is deterred from trying it out themselves, though this doesn't  make the act itself any better.

As I had mentioned above, Lacey knows how to get what she wants with men. In the workplace, she does everything she can to make herself all but invisible - not that that stops Joesbury from noticing her. In her private life, if she wants sex, she can get sex. She's subtlely manipulative and that makes her a dangerous woman to cross. In one of two of the hottest scenes with Joesbury she reveals:
"I could have persisted. Gently stroking fingers, soft kisses in the right places. He was only a man, when all was said and done."
It's not misandry because if she hated men, she wouldn't go out actively looking for sex, but I'm not entirely sure what the word is for Lacey's attitude. As a result of her sexual history, she knows what it's like to be helpless and a victim of sexual abuse; in acting sexually confident, she's telling herself that no man will ever make her be a victim again. I don't blame her for it, but it seems to me that not very many women with a similar history would take this path, which is perhaps the reason why I find Lacey's behaviour so worrying.

The novel is split into five parts, each named after one of the five original Ripper victims: Polly, Annie, Elizabeth, Catharine and Mary. The women are being killed in similar ways around the same dates as the original women; it would be pretty awesome if they had the same names as the original victims, but there is an underlying reason why these women are targeted. The structure helps to break up the action into manageable sections and also serves as a constant reminder of the historical context, showcasing the similarities and differences between the two Rippers. At various points in the novel, there are 'flashback' episodes to about 12-15 years before the book that you assume are from Lacey's past, but as you learn more about her, factor in the 'unreliable narrator' angle as well as get your head around the fact that what she says and what the flashbacks indicate are completely contradictory, you really begin to doubt whether anything that Lacey has said of herself is really true. The relevance of the flashbacks only really comes to light as you get to the end, so you need to keep these in mind and remind yourself of them so that you can fully appreciate the role they play.

There aren't words to describe how much I love this book. I love the twist on historical events that no one really knows the truth of; I love the snappy and witty dialogue creating some unexpected laughter and my mum to ask "aren't people getting killed?"; Lacey might not be my best friend, but she's a fantastic heroine, despite knowing you can never really trust her, and Joesbury is just unbelievably hot. It's the perfect balance of almost-romance, history, suspense, police procedure, mystery and excitement to keep me on the edge of my seat. Besides my issues with Lacey's attitude towards men, my only other complaint is that Lacey and Joesbury don't actually get it on. I know that the sexual tension only increases the anticipation and satisfaction for when they do finally get there, but Ms Bolton was clear in her talk (mentioned previously here) that when this does happen, that'll be the end of the series. So no matter how much I want them to just have sex already, I'm in no way ready to say goodbye. I've had Dead Scared (book two) in my wardrobe for about a week and a half now; I've told myself I can only read it once my exams are over; let's see how long I last.

Image courtesy of fantasticfiction

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