Dead Scared (2012) (Bantam Press)
Genre: gothic thriller crime
Lacey Flint: (1) Now You See Me, (1.5) If Snow Hadn't Fallen, (2) Dead Scared
I read this in something like four hours straight, until past 2AM, despite the fact that I knew I had to be up at 6.30 that day to be on campus for 8. Each time I looked at my phone, I'd tell myself 'at 11' which would then become 'at 12' and you get the picture. I might not have liked it as much as Now You See Me, but I think Dead Scared has the edge when it comes to the unputtable-down factor.
Cambridge University has, in DI Joesbury's own words, "[developed] a very unhealthy record when it comes to young people taking their own lives." Twenty students have committed suicide in the last five years and Head of Student Counselling, Evi Oliver doesn't believe that it's a coincidence that the mostly female suicidees all chose inventive, violent methods to end their lives. She contacts her old university friend Dana Tulloch who then refers it on until it lands in Joesbury's hands. He needs Lacey to pose as a vulnerable student to see if she discovers any underground network that is working to glorify and encourage suicidal behaviour.
In the latest case, Bryony Carter, a nineteen-year-old first-year medical student had been finding university life difficult to cope with. Her sessions with a counsellor revealed that she'd been having trouble sleeping and had expressed concerns that someone was coming into her room and touching her in her sleep. Finally, she couldn't take it any more and walked into the Christmas formal dinner in flames. Literally. Her tongue was burnt out and she suffered first, second, third and even fourth degree burns. Had it not been for the quick thinking of a member of staff who made use of a nearby fire extinguisher, Bryony would be dead. Considering that it appears that suicide was her purpose, it's likely she'd rather be dead than suffer through the pain she's currently in.
What really piques Lacey's interest in the case is the sexual assault element. Bryony had thought that it had happened on multiple occasions, yet had been unable to stop it or prove that anyone had actually been in her room. More disturbingly, it had not been taken seriously by the counsellor. Rape is a particularly touchy subject with Lacey because of her past sexual history and influenced her decision to work in the police on crimes against women. Even had it not been for this, Lacey would have said yes anyway: she would do almost anything for Joesbury.
Lacey becomes 'Laura Farrow', a 23-year-old mature Psychology student, slightly needy and insecure about her place at such a prestigous institution. She takes over Bryony's old room and at twenty-eight years old, finds herself with a crazy roommate called Talaith who goes by the name of 'Tox.' Only Evi knows that she's not really a student, but even Evi isn't privy to 'Laura's' real name. While most students are attending lectures (though Lacey does go along to some), writing essays and trying to catch up with the never-ending pile of reading (personal experience here) Lacey is searching for underground websites, talking to Bryony's friends and just trying to integrate herself into student life.
These murders are all the more shocking because they aren't actually murders at all: the students are presented with their worst nightmares and literally scared to the point where they kill themselves rather than have to live through any more. Lacey and Evi appear to be the next targets ...
One of the reasons that I liked Now You See Me so much was because the subject matter and plot was so deeply personal to Lacey. Given her untrustworthy nature and mysterious past, it was fascinating to see her carefully-constructed life slowly unravel as her secrets were revealed to the world. Dead Scared doesn't have quite the same pull because there wasn't that same focus on Lacey's past. Dead Scared's plot is highly original and really scary in theory, but I just didn't love it as I had done NYSM.
Another reason I loved NYSM is because of the intense sexual atmosphere between Lacey and Joesbury. They practically despised each other, yet their baser instincts took charge and there were some very hot scenes where they did nothing but throw innuendoes at each other. Ms Bolton has dialogue down to a fine art. In Dead Scared, there wasn't even a single kiss (the one where Joesbury was pretending to be Lacey's brother doesn't count). It drove me crazy. I know I KNOW it isn't a romance novel and I should stop judging everything with romance novels as the base line, but I can't help it. On this front, I was very disappointed by the lack of (1) sex and (2) anything even resembling sex. IMO, that was what made NYSM a fantastic crime novel because it wasn't just straight crime.
This did not mean, however, that there weren't some great moments.The innuendo was great and there were some very sexually charged scenes. The pair are literally nuts about each other, but both are unwilling to take the first step to make anything real, knowing that once they've inched over the line, there'll be no stopping the plunge. It's actually crazy how stubborn they both are in refusing to be the first the take that step - I love it but hate it at the same time and the main reason why I keep coming back and re-reading for more. Ms Bolton is a serious sadist for causing me this much frustration.
I was wonderfully scared by this book - though thankfully not to the point of death. It's the perfect murder because all the evidence points to suicide. The fact that so many had taken place before suspicions arose and investigations instigated shows just how good the 'murderers' were at being the bogeyman. The prologue sees Lacey on the roof of tower in Cambridge before jumping back twelve days earlier to the point where she first became involved. Throughout the novel, you've got the knowledge in your mind that that's what the entire book is going to be leading up to and it's scary because Lacey is such a strong heroine, despite her deep flaws. You know that she must have been presented with something bad before she'd take that dramatic step of wanting to take her own life and so there's a constant state of foreboding overshadowing you, intensifying the other emotions that you feel whilst reading. Ms Bolton is fantastic at manipulating your feelings to exactly how she wants you to be reacting.
I was a little creeped out by Joesbury. There were various points throughout Dead Scared where we had a glimpse of his feelings and emotions and they all centred around one thing: Lacey. He's unbelievably hot and I want him, but there were times when his behaviour was really stalkerish. One of the things that I loved about him in NYSM is how much he wants Lacey but can't have her, but Dead Scared really upped this dramatically. I can't decide whether I would jump his bones or run for my life.
I loved that Evi was in this book. She was great in Blood Harvest and I was devastated when she and Harry didn't end up together. It was frightening how the 'murderer' knew exactly what would hit her the hardest and combined with the pain she's feeling from her leg and being apart from Harry, it's a wonder that she's still able to make it through the day. It was great to see Lacey and Evi working together and when you begin to uncover more of the background of the suicides and the investigation that Lacey is a part of, you begin to realise that the two women can only rely on each other, adding to the sense of foreboding and the fear you feel for them. Despite that her protagonists are never completely relatable, Ms Bolton manages to get you to really care for them so that the books become about them rather than the plot. I love that.
I don't really know what it would take to scare me to death. I sincerely pray that I will never find myself put in such a situation, but it does really make you think. Ms Bolton said in her talk that for her, it would be knowing that someone had entered their private, personal space and moved things slightly just to have you paranoid and questioning whether or not you had made the changes yourself. I think that would get me too. I have very specific systems and places for things and can get fairly obsessive about the way I order and tidy things. I take great pleasure in being able to tidy things up to my exacting standards and so seeing that things are slightly out of place from how I would have put them would completely freak me out. Not that this is a call for someone to try this out on me.
Don't read this without reading NYSM first. There are some series where it's perfectly permissible to read the books out of order: this is not one of them. That's another thing that irks me and it's practically a crime with these books. I implore you to read Dead Scared, even if you're not a fan of crime - but not without reading Now You See Me first. Believe me, you'll thank me for it.
Image courtesy of Fantastic Fiction.