Monday, 1 July 2013

Audiobook Review: DEAD SCARED by S. J. Bolton

Dead Scared (Lacey Flint, #2)

Title: Dead Scared (Lacey Flint #2)
Author: S. J. Bolton
Narrator: Lisa Coleman
Publisher: Random House
Read: June 05 - 25, 2013

Synopsis (Goodreads):

When a rash of suicides tears through Cambridge University, DI Mark Joesbury recruits DC Lacey Flint to go undercover as a student to investigate. Although each student’s death appears to be a suicide, the psychological histories, social networks, and online activities of the students involved share remarkable similarities, and the London police are not convinced that the victims acted alone. They believe that someone might be preying on lonely and insecure students and either encouraging them to take their own lives or actually luring them to their deaths. As long as Lacey can play the role of a vulnerable young woman, she may be able to stop these deaths, but is it just a role for her? With her fragile past, is she drawing out the killers, or is she herself being drawn into a deadly game where she’s a perfect victim?

Dark and compelling, S. J. Bolton’s latest thriller—a follow-up to the acclaimed Now You See Me—is another work of brilliant psychological suspense that plumbs the most sinister depths.

My thoughts:

I have been a huge fan of S. J. Bolton’s writing ever since picking up Awakening earlier this year, and she never fails to impress and surprise me with her wonderfully creepy imagination and cleverly constructed plots.

A recent spate of violent student suicides in the university town of Cambridge has drawn the attention of the Special Crimes Directorate of the Metropolitan Police who suspect that there could be more to these suicides than meets the eye despite any concrete lack of evidence of foul play. On DI Mark Joesbury’s request, DC Lacey Flint is deployed as an undercover officer posing as a student at St. John’s College in an effort to find out more about the recent victims. To gain access to information, Lacey is put in contact with Evi Oliver, a respected psychologist and senior lecturer, who has been very concerned about the disproportionate number of student deaths compared to other years. Soon both Evi and Lacey become involved in some strange and frightening happenings themselves, which target them at their most vulnerable and expose their most intimate fears. With their own demons threatening to push them over the edge, they must not only try to find out who they can trust, but also try to stay one step ahead of a ruthless killer who will stop at nothing to protect his secret.

I love everything about Bolton’s writing, from the atmospheric rural UK setting to her flesh-and-blood characters, and the way she can make the most innocent scenes take on an air of menace and fear. Having fond memories of Cambridge from several visits there in my teenage years, I found it the perfect stage for Lacey’s new deployment and could easily picture its historic halls, its canals, its sprawling grounds – so steeped in history that the spooky atmosphere Bolton creates so effortlessly suited it perfectly.

Bolton’s skills lie in being able to share her amazing imagination and cleverly constructed, original plots through her writing by letting her characters carry the storyline in their actions and dialogue. No time is wasted in boring explanations – instead, like peeling the layers of an onion, each character’s secrets are revealed step-by-step, making it impossible to put the book down. Every page holds a tiny clue, a new piece of the puzzle, designed to come together in a breath-taking finale, which always, always has that certain wow-factor which makes for a great suspense story. I love how some scenes retain an air of mystery which is never fully explained away, making them stick in the mind long after the last page has been turned. One of them for me was Lacey’s encounter with a bird of prey – one perfect example of how to raise the hairs on the back of the reader’s neck with an apparently innocuous scene. I find myself holding my breath A LOT throughout reading Bolton’s books.

Lacey is a character I am warming to more and more the more I get to know her – with the mystery surrounding her past and her plucky, independent personality she makes the perfect modern heroine. Somewhat rash and impulsive, Lacey is not afraid to take risks, but in Dead Scared we also find out about her deepest fears, the vulnerable side she keeps hidden from the world. Because of the mystery surrounding her, Lacey can get away with decisions which may seem reckless and unreasonable for a police detective – and which add greatly to the suspense. In Dead Scared, the frustrated sexual tension between Lacey and DI Joesbury heats up a notch, but never distracts from the actual storyline.

Evi Oliver is a character I am hoping to see more of in future novels – she may have started out as a supporting cast, but soon became a central figure in the drama playing out in this beautiful historic town. The parallel storyline of Evie nursing her own wounds and trying to keep her own demons under wraps was as captivating to me as Lacey’s story, and I was sad to think that we may not get to revisit this character again.

With Bolton’s usual flair, she has created a complex and clever plot which is impossible to predict and took me on a roller coaster ride of nail-biting suspense. Somehow, despite its complexity and perhaps at times far-fetched details, the story never pushed the boundaries of credibility, even when the full scale of the conspiracy was finally exposed. Instead, I was so engrossed in the story that it felt almost like I had been a bystander, witnessing events through my own eyes.

A final salute goes to Lisa Coleman, the narrator of the audio-version of the book I listened to (and which captivated me through many hours of night-time commute to and from night-shift, contributing to road safety because no matter how tired I may have been, I could NEVER have fallen asleep through that tale). Lisa’s narration fitted both the setting as well as the characters perfectly, who were brought to life by her skill of giving each one of them a unique voice.

I HIGHLY recommend Dead Scared to anyone who loves a gripping psychological thriller – even better, start with Now You See Me and work your way through Bolton’s entire Lacey Flint series. It is easy to see how Bolton earned herself the title of “High Priestess of rural gothic crime”. Wow. Five stars from me – what more can I say?

This book forms part of my 2013 Audiobook Challenge.

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