I don’t read a lot of contemporary crime fiction, but one author whose work I’ve been enjoying recently is S.J. Bolton. Last year I read Sacrifice and Awakening and loved both of them. But while those two books had atmospheric settings and a gothic feel (both things which appeal to me in a book) Now You See Me sounded like a more conventional crime novel and I wasn’t sure how I would feel about it. I had been putting off reading it for a while but finally picked it up a couple of weeks ago to read in preparation for reading the sequel, Dead Scared. I’ve decided to combine my thoughts on Now You See Me and Dead Scared into one post as I read them so close together.
Now You See Me introduces us to DC Lacey Flint, a young police detective based in London. After interviewing a witness one evening, Lacey returns to her car to find a dying woman slumped across it. The woman has been stabbed but there’s no sign of her attacker. As more murders take place across the city it starts to appear that they are the work of a serial killer copying the crimes of Jack the Ripper – who happens to be Lacey’s favourite historical figure. Lacey uses her knowledge of the Ripper to guess the killer’s next moves, but it soon becomes obvious that there’s a connection between the murders and Lacey herself, and she’s forced to confront some secrets from her past that she would prefer to keep hidden.
I needn’t have worried that I wouldn’t like this book because I enjoyed it almost as much as the others. What I loved most about Now You See Me was the character of Lacey Flint. As the story’s narrator we’re relying on her to give us all the facts but we quickly discover that there are a lot of things she’s not telling us. I liked Lacey but she’s very flawed and secretive, and the truth about her past is only revealed very slowly as the story progresses. Towards the end of the book, the plot takes a lot of unexpected twists and turns and I loved the fact that S.J. Bolton managed to surprise me after I thought I’d figured everything out!
In Dead Scared we join Lacey again as she goes undercover at Cambridge University to investigate an unusually high number of suicides among the students, most of them attractive young women. Many of these students had reported having problems sleeping and waking from nightmares feeling that someone had been in their room. Posing as a depressed, vulnerable student, Lacey tries to find out what’s going on, but could she be putting her own life at risk?
The only person at Cambridge who knows Lacey’s true identity is Evi Oliver, a psychiatrist with an interesting past of her own. Although most of the book is again narrated by Lacey, there are also some chapters written in the third person from Evi’s perspective. Apparently Evi first appeared in Blood Harvest, the only book by Bolton that I haven’t read yet, and I felt there were a lot of things I didn’t understand about her background – I will have to read Blood Harvest soon!
Now that we’ve had the chance to get to know Lacey better she’s much more open with us and I felt her character had developed a lot since the first book. It would probably be best to read Now You See Me first as it will help you understand Lacey and the way she interacts with the other characters, but this book does stand alone quite well so if you do find yourself reading this one first it shouldn’t spoil things too much.
Both novels also explore Lacey’s relationship with one of her male colleagues, DI Mark Joesbury. It’s obvious almost from their first scene together that they have feelings for each other but neither wants to admit it to the other. There’s a real chemistry between the two of them and this adds another interesting angle to the story.
Like S.J. Bolton’s other novels, Now You See Me and Dead Scared are quick and exciting reads due to the combination of fast-paced plot, short chapters and cliffhanger chapter endings. Bolton is great at creating a dark, menacing atmosphere and building the tension as her characters find themselves becoming increasingly isolated and in danger. These books are not for the faint hearted as the descriptions of the murders and suicides are quite graphic, but if you enjoy reading this type of crime novel I can recommend either or both of these.