Like This, For Ever by S.J. Bolton

Like This For Ever Although I don’t read as much contemporary crime fiction as I used to, S.J. Bolton is one author whose books I always look out for. This is the third in her Lacey Flint detective series (or the fourth if you include the novella, If Snow Hadn’t Fallen, which I haven’t read yet). After the events of the previous book, Dead Scared, Lacey has been recovering from her traumatic experiences and is still not ready to return to work. But when young boys start going missing in Lacey’s area of London and their bodies are discovered in the river a few days later drained of blood, Lacey finds herself drawn into another mystery – despite the attempts of DI Dana Tulloch to keep her out of the investigation. However, Dana’s team are making slow progress in solving the crime as whoever is committing these murders does not appear to have a motive and doesn’t seem to fit the typical profile of a serial killer.

The house next door to Lacey’s is the home of eleven-year-old Barney Roberts and his father. Being the same age as the other boys who have disappeared, Barney and his friends are following the case very closely on Facebook. As his father always seems to be working late leaving Barney at home on his own, he has plenty of time to keep up to date with the latest news on the crimes. As Lacey gets to know her young neighbour better she grows concerned for this intelligent boy who is so obsessed with the murders and who still seems to be grieving for the mother who vanished from his life seven years earlier. Can Lacey help Barney find his mother? Will the murderer be caught before he or she has time to kill again? And what is the true identity of the mysterious Peter Sweep, who always seems to be one step ahead of the police?

Bolton’s standalone novels, Awakening and Sacrifice are still my favourites (I loved the gothic elements of her earlier books), but I do like the Lacey Flint series too and Like This, For Ever is the best so far, in my opinion. I found the mystery in this one very difficult to solve – there were several times when I was convinced I knew who the murderer was, only to be proved wrong, wrong and wrong again! I was completely taken by surprise by most of the plot twists (and there are a lot of them). I should have remembered that nothing is ever as it seems in a Bolton novel and if things appear too obvious, it’s usually because they are.

Lacey herself continues to be a flawed and fascinating character and in this book she is more isolated than ever, refusing to allow anyone to get close to her – including Mark Joesbury, another recurring character, with whom she has a very turbulent relationship. In the previous two books, Now You See Me and Dead Scared, Lacey was narrating in the first person, but this story is told in the third person which I thought allowed the real Lacey Flint to be even more obscured from the reader. And with Lacey not at work and on the outside of the investigation, we spend more time getting to know the other members of the Major Investigation Team – especially Dana Tulloch, though I’ve never found Dana a very appealing character and in this book I really disliked her because of the way she was treating Lacey. I did love the character of Barney, the eleven-year-old-boy with a gift for finding everything else apart from his missing mother, and for me he was the real star of the book.

S.J. Bolton’s books can sometimes be very dark and they can sometimes be gory. I tend to avoid this type of crime fiction but am happy to make an exception for Bolton. I didn’t think the gory parts in this book were too excessive, so if you’ve coped with any of her other books you should be fine with this one. While my preference is for historical or vintage mysteries and the traditional methods of detection, it can’t be denied that modern technology opens up lots of fascinating new ways to both commit crimes and solve them. The use of social media, especially Facebook, features very strongly in the plot and we are shown how it can be of help to the police as a source of information and discussion, as well as causing problems when people decide to abuse it.

This is my favourite of the series so far but if you’re new to the Lacey books I would probably recommend starting at the beginning with Now You See Me and reading them in order so that you can get to know the characters and the relationships between them. If you do choose to start with this one, though, it shouldn’t be a problem as Bolton has taken care not to spoil too much of the previous novels. Now I just need to find time to read Blood Harvest, the other S.J. Bolton book I still haven’t read.

Please note that the US title of this book is Lost.

I received a copy of this book via Netgalley for review

Two from S.J. Bolton: Now You See Me and Dead Scared

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.

Awakening by S.J. Bolton

If you’re scared of snakes you might want to avoid this book! There are lots and lots of snakes in Awakening, from the harmless grass snake to the British adder and the venomous taipan. And in an isolated English village someone is breaking into people’s houses and leaving some of these snakes behind for the unsuspecting residents to find.

Luckily one of the villagers happens to be an expert on reptiles: her name is Clara Benning and she’s our narrator. Due to something that happened in her childhood, Clara has decided she’s more comfortable with animals than people and is working as a vet at a wildlife hospital. And so when the village becomes overrun with snakes, her neighbours come to her for advice. Clara begins to investigate, although she finds communicating with people difficult and would prefer to be left alone. With the help of two very different men – one a local policeman and the other a celebrity snake-handler – Clara is gradually drawn into a fifty year-old mystery which may explain where the snakes are coming from and at the same time she is forced to confront her own fears and insecurities.

Awakening is the second book I’ve read by S.J. Bolton. The first was Sacrifice, which I read earlier in the year and loved. This book had all the things I liked about Sacrifice – the fast pace, the gripping mystery plot, the interesting and independent female protagonist – but I enjoyed this one even more because I was able to connect with Clara more than I did with Tora Hamilton in the previous book. She seemed a more believable and well-developed character. Her personal background intrigued me immediately and the balance between this part of the story and the snake storyline was perfect.

Something else that I loved about this book was the setting. A lot of the action seems to take place at night and the small rural village feels very eerie and sinister in the dark. There are some gothic elements too, including graveyards, abandoned houses, old churches, underground tunnels and possible sightings of ghosts. As for the snakes, if you actually have a phobia about them you probably wouldn’t want to read this book, but otherwise you should be okay. I don’t particularly like them and certainly wouldn’t want to find one in my bedroom, but reading about snakes isn’t a problem for me and I enjoyed all the little facts about them that were dropped into the story without slowing the plot down at all.

Now I’m looking forward to reading Bolton’s other books, Blood Harvest and Now You See Me.

Sacrifice by S.J. Bolton

A few weeks ago I mentioned that I’d signed up for Transworld’s Great Crime Caper reading challenge. Sacrifice, the debut novel by S.J. Bolton, is the first book I received from Transworld for the challenge.

Our narrator is Tora Hamilton, an obstetric surgeon who has recently moved to the Shetland Islands with her husband, Duncan. Tora has been told that the Shetlands are ‘one of the safest places to live in the UK’, so the last thing she expects is to find a dead body in a peat bog in the field beside her new home. To make things even more shocking the body has had the heart removed and is carved with symbols which match the ancient runes on the wall in Tora’s cellar. As Tora becomes more and more determined to find out what’s going on she discovers that someone else is equally determined to put an end to her investigations.

If you’re going to read this book you should be aware that it’s very gory in places, particularly at the beginning of the novel, when Tora finds the mutilated corpse. If you can get through this part you’ll be all right because the story then becomes much less gruesome, though increasingly dark and eerie, and soon develops into a fascinating and well-structured murder mystery. Tora, with the help of police detectives Dana and Helen, uses a whole range of resources to investigate the mystery and piece information together, from medical records and birth registers to bank statements and books of folklore.

The most interesting aspect of this book for me was the Shetland setting and the exploration of Shetland myths and legends. I’ve never been to the Shetlands and have never read a book set there either, so this was something new for me, and I thought S.J. Bolton perfectly evoked the atmosphere of these remote and ruggedly beautiful islands with their jagged cliffs, flooded valleys and the Aurora Borealis illuminating the night sky.

Although the Shetlands are part of Scotland they are deeply rooted in Norse history and folklore and some of these myths and legends become integral to the story, giving it a slightly supernatural aura. There’s a scene where Tora is reading about a particular myth for the first time which really sent shivers down my spine. In fact, the whole book is genuinely quite scary. There are a few chapters that you really wouldn’t want to read if you were alone in the house at night!

On a more negative note, sometimes I felt I was being given too much information all at once when it could probably have been woven into the plot more gradually. A lot of it was also hard to believe. Tora seemed unrealistically brave, taking needless risks and sneaking around murder scenes in the middle of the night. Of course, fiction doesn’t always need to be realistic and it wouldn’t have been much of a story if Tora had reacted the way I would have done and run a mile at the first sign of danger! And none of this really mattered to me anyway because the plot was so exciting and gripping.

Sacrifice was just what I needed after reading a lot of slower paced books recently. Perfect if you’re looking for a fast-moving, atmospheric mystery with a unique setting.