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?
Dead Scared is the second novel in the Lacey Flint series and is set about five months after Now You See Me. Lacey has been avoiding contact with Joesbury during his recovery from the gunshot wound that nearly killed him but when she finally agrees to meet him, she realises her feelings for him are as strong as ever but the meeting isn’t about them. Joesbury wants Lacey to go undercover as a Cambridge undergraduate to get to the bottom of a series of bizarre suicides.
The only person who knows Lacey’s real identity is Evi Oliver, a psychiatrist assigned to student counselling, who first appeared in Bolton’s third novel, Blood Harvest. As well as being caught up in the suicide investigation, Evi is suffering from her own problems as she is being targeted by a stalker who may be a figment of her imagination.
As the case unfolds, it becomes obvious someone is preying on the fears of the students and since Lacey is not immune to trauma, she is placed in a precarious situation as she becomes the culprit’s latest target. When Joesbury orders Lacey to retreat, she ignores him because she has become too personally involved and is determined to find answers before someone else dies. Throughout much of the story, Lacey is not in a good place psychologically which makes her the perfect pawn but her strength of character rises to the surface just when she needs it the most. However, Lacey’s disregard for proper procedure is also her downfall because she gets herself into a lot of precarious situations that could have been avoided if she had only done as she was told. I’m in two minds about this, mainly because it is an essential part of Lacey’s character which absolutely makes her who she is but there is a fine balance between being stubborn and stupid, and there were inevitable moments when I was left shaking my head in disbelief at her actions.
The atmosphere in the novel is very dark, particularly in regard to the suicides, and the psychological abuse is chillingly detailed enough to send shivers up your spine. The case is a complex one and it takes a while for it to unravel but the pace slows and quickens at the right moments with the odd departure into the past. When Evi and Lacey realise they are investigating the same issues, they make a pretty good team despite the fact they are obviously being set up as the next targets and are suffering mentally as a consequence. I enjoyed meeting Evi again who is obviously still suffering from the events of Blood Harvest and pining for Harry, her lost love, which is finally concluded.
There is a bit more romance in this book as Lacey becomes attracted to a local GP, Nick Bell, who may or may not be involved in the case but Joesbury is always looming large in the back of her mind. Joesbury takes more of a backseat in this novel but he is watching Lacey from afar, ready to intervene if she needs it, and we soon learn that Joesbury was never happy with the idea of Lacey going undercover so soon. The couple don’t even so much as kiss during the investigation but it is clear their relationship has moved to a new level by the conclusion, even if they are taking baby steps.