Dead Scared

by on June 30th, 2012
Dead Scared Cover Image

If you’ve read any of S.J. Bolton’s books, then you know when you start one that you’re in for something good — an unusual mystery, a bit of darkness and a somewhat gothic tone, well-developed characters and plot. Serious mystery for serious readers. Her newest, Dead Scared, is no exception. The book takes place in the storied city and schools of Cambridge, where an unusually high number of students have taken their lives; as if that’s not enough, the suicides have strange similarities among them and a school psychologist has taken notice and gotten the police involved. The plan is to send one of their own in, posing as a less-than confident student, to suss out what’s behind it all. Things go very awry, though, when the officer and the psychologist become possible next victims.

One thing I really like about Bolton’s books is that each one is very unlike the others she’s written. I certainly like to read mysteries that are part of a series, but sometimes they just seem to fall into a rut–the stories are often unique only in the details, while the story development and characters’ actions all follow a too-similar path. This book actually has characters from two of Bolton’s other titles, so I guess it’s sort of a series, but really it feels like more of a coincidental meet-up: Dr. Evi Oliver from Blood Harvest, and detectives Lacey Flint and Mark Joesbury from Now You See Me all cross paths in Cambridge. While I know them from the other books, there was nothing predictable about them or the story, and that alone can be a very refreshing element in a mystery novel.

Dead Scared has a nice, slow pace — there are a lot of nice details about the setting, as well, for those of you who like mysteries that take place in other locales — and throughout it all Bolton never gives too much away. I watch and read a lot of mysteries, and it’s gotten to be that I’m constantly changing my assessment of ‘who done it,’ always second-guessing the characters and their motives as well as the author’s intent to keep it all, well, a mystery (everyone is a suspect, at some point!). Bolton does a fine job of keeping it all hidden without relying on trickery or unmentioned details that pop up in the end, and all is revealed in good time.

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