Dead Scared is the latest from Bolton--and it is a scary and terrifying ride. I do have one quibble I wish to get off my chest. Dear po-po at Scotland Yard: It is not cool when you don't share what you know about a case with the woman you're sending in undercover--especially a woman like Lacey Flint--it is not cool at all. You're playing with people's LIVES (and my nerves) here! Do you really think telling Lacey only TO OBSERVE and NOT TO INVESTIGATE will make any difference? She will dig up what she can dig up and then she will end in a bad, no good, very dangerous situation.
While Bolton's first two novels made their settings and those settings' histories major characters, the later two novels haven't had this element. Instead this novel's villains may be some of Bolton's darkest, most diabolical to date. From the first pages, you're sucked into a disturbing, terrifying, dark story that will make your heart pound.
A rash of suicides plagues Cambridge University's student body, and Dr. Evi Cooper (from Blood Harvest), the new head of student counseling services, thinks there's something/someone manipulating vulnerable students into taking their own lives. Unfortunately the only evidence that there's an untoward element to the suicides is the statistical anomalies--the slightly higher incidence per year and the majority of female victims among the suicides. The suicides take their lives in atypical, unusually creative and gruesome ways. However, there isn't any evidence left behind that a second party is involved in the deaths. While it takes a while for Cooper and Flint (sent in undercover to OBSERVE and NOT TO INVESTIGATE) to see it, the astute reader can see that someone's targeting students using psychological warfare to unravel their fragile psyches, prey upon their worst fears, disrupt their sleep patterns and push them towards killing themselves.
Dr. Cooper has called in a favor from her fellow Cambridge alumna, Dana Tulloch, who turns it over to the covert operations directorate of Scotland Yard. Tulloch trusts her old friend's instincts. Mark Joesbury thinks of Lacey Flint when they need someone to pass for a Cambridge student in order to get a better understanding of what's going on at the school. Once Flint teams up with Cooper, their collective sleuthing uncovers a handful of attempted suicides that connect to the suicides along with a common thread of nightmares, voices, insomnia, possible drugging, feelings of violation and rape among the female victims. However, as the investigation continues both Cooper and Flint start displaying signs of mental deterioration. Someone is targeting those who are vulnerable to depression and using sophisticated means to manipulate them and those around them into questioning their sanity. How is this person passing unnoticed? How do they pass through locked doors? How do they know their targets innermost fears? Why are they doing this? And who can Cooper and Flint trust with what they find?
Time's running out for both Cooper and Flint as the manipulation and psychological warfare escalates; will either woman be able to withstand the descent into depression and darkness or will they too be pushed into taking their own lives? Each chapter is terrifying, scary, and sinister and those familiar with Bolton's first novel (as I am; have I mentioned how paranoid I am about whom to trust when it comes to reading thrillers now?) will worry over who can be trusted and who cannot.
I have to admit I miss the role the setting used to play in Bolton's novels. The settings of her first two novels were richly drawn characters in their own rights--quirky, creepy, fascinating, adding a unique flavor to the story that was informed by the settings' often dark, usually disturbing histories that bred sinister evil in its environs. I can't help but feel that despite the blackness of the story and the twistedness of the villains, there was a little something missing from Dead Scared and that missing something was the setting used as a character.
This is a must read for any fan of the dark thriller as well as S.J. Bolton fans.
--Reviewed by Ms. Angie