When a Cambridge student dramatically attempts to take her own life, DI Mark Joesbury realizes that the university has developed an unhealthy record of young people committing suicide in extraordinary ways. Against huge personal misgivings, Joesbury sends young policewoman DC Lacey Flint to Cambridge, with a brief to work under-cover, posing as a depression-prone, vulnerable student. Psychiatrist Evi Oliver is the only person in Cambridge who knows who Lacey really is – or so they both hope. But as the two women dig deeper into the darker side of university life, they discover a terrifying trend …And when Lacey starts experiencing the same disturbing nightmares reported by the dead girls, she knows that she is next.

Dead Scared by SJ Bolton

Dead Scared by SJ Bolton

Dead Scared is the third title I’ve had the pleasure reading – not quite sure if pleasure is an apt description given the subject matter! – and once again she has delivered an assured and gripping title I couldn’t and didn’t want to put down. Read over two days, the majority in one sitting, Dead Scared had me hooked from the very first chapter as I raced through the book eager to find out what happened to the protagonists. What I didn’t expect was to come across a couple of characters I last saw in Blood Harvest – Harry (the vicar from Heptonclough) and Psychiatrist Evi Oliver – it was great to see them again even though Harry’s appearance is rather fleeting, I wanted more!

The book also marks the second outing for DI Mark Joesbury and DC Lacey Flint and once again the pair skirt around an obvious animal/love attraction that’s clear for all to see but they refuse to give in to their feelings – or do they? You’ll just have to read to find out! Lacey Flint is an intriguing character; she appears more open this time around – a depth that wasn’t there in Now You See Me – yet at the same time a lot more vulnerable but dogged and determined all the same. Lacey Flint is a terrifically arousing literary character. Deep undercover as a young college student at St John’s College Cambridge we experience two sides to her character but she soon discovers keeping them separate won’t be as easy as she thinks. As soon as Flint arrives at the college she’s on the back foot and under pressure, her cover almost blown before she has time to settle.

Another character to shine through was Evi Oliver. Like Flint she’s having a tough time of it – both physically and mentally – but one thing’s for sure, Oliver is a fighter, she needs to be. I loved the way Bolton has written her into this story; she wrestles with patient confidentiality, struggles with a debilitating injury and an increasing pain her meds refuse to combat, she’s not in a great place.

Dead Scared is without doubt character driven but the story itself holds strong and along with a plot that is both imaginative and very well structured, the narrative is taut and as I’ve come to expect from SJ Bolton incredibly easy to read. One of my favourite parts with this book was the humorous exchange of emails between Joesbury and Flint. Mostly sent in the early hours of the morning, sometimes under the influence of alcohol and lack of sleep, the pair skirt around the flirtatious issues neither are prepared to admit face to face! The way Flint talks to her superior had me in stitches “sleep tight, don’t let the bed bugs bite”. Classic.

Although a fictional story I don’t think I’ll watch the University Boat Race in the same light again – come on Oxford – and I found myself easily distracted between fact and fiction, Bolton makes it so realistic and I truly felt part of University life. That said, I’m just glad, having read this book, that I never went to Cambridge University. Pranks that are taken too far and with a growing number of suicides, Cambridge isn’t a safe place to be. Incredibly atmospheric, Bolton has created a Cambridge that is both compelling and uncertain. It’s this colour and shade that made me want to turn each page and discover more.

A gripping and highly entertaining story, Dead Scared is Dead Dark, more an attack on the senses than all out frightening, a fitting addition to the Lacey Flint stable and I for one can’t wait to read the next instalment. A couple of twists here and there help the book flow to an absorbing conclusion but the author leaves a few unanswered questions, questions that will have me on the edge of my seat until I discover what happens next!

Published by Bantam Press, Dead Scared is available in hardback, paperback & Kindle formats.

384 Pages — ISBN-10: 0593064151 — ISBN-13: 978-0593064153

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