(Image from Barnes & Noble)
(Note: While this review will not contain spoilers for Dead Scared, it may inadvertently reveal plot surprises from its predecessor, Now You See Me. As always, I recommend reading books in a series in order. Actually, the best way to read S.J. [Sharon] Bolton's books is in order of publication—that way you can avoid spoilers concerning all characters, especially minor but recurring ones.)
A string of gruesome suicides at Cambridge University has everyone on edge. Evi Oliver (whose back story is told in Blood Harvest), the head of student counseling, thinks there's more to the story, especially since the dead women all complained of similar problems—disturbing nightmares, terrifying hallucinations, crippling insomnia, etc—prior to their deaths. This "coincidence" has all her Spidey senses on alert. Something strange is going on at the university and she wants to know what. Luckily, Dr. Oliver has friends in high places.
Not entirely convinced that anything sinister is going on, Detective Inspector Mark Josebury is nevertheless tasked with finding answers. The only way to do that, he knows, is to send in an undercover agent. Unfortunately, Detective Constable Lacey Flint is perfect for the job. Not only does she look younger than her 27 years, but she's as scarred and vulnerable as the students who allegedly ended their own lives. If someone is indeed luring susceptible women to their deaths, that someone should find Lacey Flint especially alluring. Joesbury has more than a passing interest in Lacey's welfare; despite his reluctance, he gives her the job.
Lacey moves into a room recently vacated by a first-year medical student who tried to commit suicide by lighting herself on fire. As she makes discreet inquiries around campus, the detective finds herself plagued by the same issues the dead women experienced. Is it just the stress of the investigation getting to her? Or has Lacey become the target of someone's cruel jokes? Is she the next victim of a sadistic killer or does her enemy exist only in the murky depths of her tortured mind? How can Lacey find answers for Joesbury when she doesn't even know what's going on in her own head?
I fell in love with the vulnerable but tough-as-nails Lacey Flint when I first met her in Now You See Me by S.J. Bolton. She's a complex heroine, a woman who is full of surprises—and secrets. This makes her endlessly fascinating to me. I would probably read any story that featured such a rich, compelling lead character, but Bolton is an author who knows how to deliver on multiple levels. Like Now You See Me, Dead Scared combines an intriguing cast with a didn't-see-that-coming plotline that unfolds with unrelenting tension to create the kind of mesmerizing, mind-twisting page turner that is literally impossible to put down. Although I've come to expect this winning combination from Bolton, I'm still taken by surprise at how thoroughly she hooks me with this formula. Every. Single. Time. Dead Scared is grim and gritty, to be sure. It's also gripping. So much so that once you start the book, you won't be able to stop. Consider yourself warned.
(Readalikes: Other books in the Lacey Flint series, including Now You See Me; If Snow Hadn't Fallen; Lost; A Dark and Twisted Tide; and Here Be Dragons)
If this were a movie, it would be rated:
for language (a dozen or so F-bombs, plus milder expletives), violence, blood/gore, and disturbing subject matter
To the FTC, with love: Another library