Lacey Flint is a London-based cop who is more apt to follow her gut than procedure. But it’s not quite what you think. Unlike Dirty Harry, she’s not going to abandon women or girls who are being hurt, and damn anyone who says anything different. In the Lacey Flint series, violence against women abounds, not as an afterthought, but rather as a problem that has consequences. Mysteries can follow a template, but a thoughtful writer can work a lot of substance into what seems at first glance a “whodunnit?” Don’t get me wrong, they’re not preachy. But they’re not light, either.
I just started the Lacey Flint series, reading the first two very quickly, and I really enjoyed them. The mysteries are always interesting, if not a little bit over the top. And the personal relationships are never dull. There is a point, where Lacey is sure that she’s not going to be hurt, that was genuinely interesting and surprising. The books also don’t spoon feed the reader and you have to make sure that your brain is on to read them.
There’s a fun boyfriend roulette in the books that seems like a Janet Evonovich touch. Lacey has a thing for DI Mark Joesbury, he of the dreamy turquoise eyes. I really enjoy this aspect of the book because the idea of being drawn to someone without actually liking them much can still be clever and avoid cliché in the hands of a skilled writer like Bolton. I think the love story makes this a “series” in a way that Lacey’s career doesn’t. And I’m not too far into this series, but a lot of series have authors writing the same story over and over with different characters. Not so here; the first book is nothing like the second.
Book one, Now You See Me, is a gory re-creation of Jack the Ripper’s crimes in modern London. The hunt for the killer is very exciting and has some interesting twists and turns. But the crimes themselves are not for the squeamish. I have a passing knowledge of Jack the Ripper and still thought that the crimes were quite horrific. In Dead Scared, the second book, Lacey goes undercover at Cambridge to figure out what in the Sam Hell is going on with all these elaborate suicides.
Both books have an undercurrent that I don’t like in mysteries, the perfect killer who leaves behind no clues except the ones they mean to! But I suppose mysteries would be kind of boring if the cops lifted a fingerprint, figured out who the killer was, arrested them and closed the case. And in the Lacey Flint series, I don’t mind as much because the mysteries are very conceptual: figure out the riddle– what in the hell is going on– and you figure out the killer.
I don’t want to give too much away, but there is a lot in the series about identity and an interesting look at “what’s in a name.” For instance, in the second book, Lacey is undercover at Cambridge University as Laura Farrow. Laura becomes a character in the book as we see her from other perspectives. And since we know Lacey from the previous book, we know that she is a method actor. She still has Lacey impulses, but Laura takes over. I believe that Bolton is intentionally deconstructing the idea of “character” to truly illustrate the idea that you can’t ever really know someone.
I actually have a bit of a quibble with the perspective changes in the story. Anything from Lacey’s (or Laura’s) perspective is in first person, but the four or five other perspectives in the story are third person and sometimes we switch between those perspectives in the mostly very short chapters. It can be very jarring and seems clunky. But maybe Bolton is going for a Faulkner-esque fog of confusion over those chapters because I never got so confused by it that I was lost.
On that subject, sometimes Bolton is slumming it as a writer in the world of short chapter mysteries. There is one chapter in Dead Scared, forty-seven, that is more developed than the other moments and the chapter shines, letting her characters live and breath on the page, intercutting the fun of a party with a suspense inducing clown fear. I really wished that other chapters had been allowed to be more “scenes” than three-pages of “new information.” My point is that I think if Bolton took her time, we might end up with a great novel instead of a great mystery.
It’s always fun to find a new mystery series that is only a couple in, so you can start reading without feeling like you’ll never get caught up. I like the wring, the characters, and the mysteries. Check it out!