Now You See Me
by Sharon Bolton
I like Sharon Bolton’s thrillers as a general rule. This is the first in her series about rookie detective Lacey Flint (the other books of Bolton’s I have read were one-off stories). I hungrily consumed this and immediately bought its sequels. And yet, I do have some reservations.
Lacey is young, capable and eager. She frequently ignores orders, thinking she knows better, and puts herself in danger. She’s also not the most reliable of narrators, which plays perfectly into the mystery that Bolton weaves around her.
When we meet Lacey, a woman is dying in her arms, bloodily and messily. She’s stumbled into the middle of a murder scene and is both sole witness and, briefly, primary suspect. She’s not meant to be working murder cases at all (her intention is to work as a rape specialist), but she can’t seem to shake herself loose from this one. Particularly not when the police receive a letter addressed to Lacey claiming to be from the killer – who is planning to strike again.
“A dead woman was leaning against my car. Somehow managing to stand upright, arms outstretched, fingers grasping the rim of the passenger door, a dead woman was spewing blood over the car’s paintwork, each spatter overlaying the last as the pattern began to resemble a spider’s web.”
I don’t want to give away too much of the plot, as it’s very twisty with lots of reveals – some of which I saw coming but many that I didn’t. A lot of research has clearly gone into constructing this plot and at times it was a little info-dumped, but that did help keep plenty of red herrings in play.
The police team is led by DI Dana Tulloch, an attractive no-nonsense woman under pressure to solve the case or resign. She has help from the Metropolitan Police’s covert ops team in the form of Mark Joesbury, who is immediately suspicious of Lacey and who she finds herself inexplicably attracted to. Dana and Mark are old friends, which makes Lacey jealous at the same time as she is bristling at Mark’s insults flung her way. (Honestly, their potential romance felt remarkably like the cheesy K-dramas I watch, which always start with the guy treating the woman horribly.)
This novel does include fairly brutal violence, which could be tough to read. And some of the reveals felt a bit manipulative. The story balances realism with an air of artifice, a larger-than-life villain and convoluted back story.
” ‘Rape changes women,’ I said, and waited to see if anyone wanted to hear what I had to say. Nobody turned away. ‘Rape victims talk about themselves before and after the rape as though they were two different people…I’m not talking about a period of depression or getting a bit edgy…Rape victims are very specific in the language they use. They talk about the rape killing the person they were and then having to get used to the new person they’ve become.’ “
Overall, I found this novel gripping. But I did have one gripe at the time. I didn’t like the way Bolton describes the skin tone of every character of colour but never tells us a character is white. It’s that old assumption that white is the default and people are only defined in ways they are not the default. But this is set in London – white might be the majority but it’s certainly not the assumption.
On reflection, I do also have a gripe with the nature of the violence, but it involves mild spoilers so…
*** SPOILER WARNING ***
I recently heard about the Staunch Book Prize, which will go to a thriller novel “in which no woman is beaten, stalked, sexually exploited, raped or murdered”. It’s in its second year and I’m interested to see if it becomes better known. I can certainly see why it’s arguably needed.
This novel fails the Staunch test on every count. It features repeated extreme violence against women, rape, stalking of women and of course their murder. I’m not necessarily bothered if, in a murder mystery, a murder victim happens to be a woman. But I am sick and tired of reading about sexual violence, particularly rape as back story and rape as motivation. Yes, rape exists and is a huge problem, but does it have to be the excuse every time a women might be a murderer?
*** END SPOILER ***
Obviously, these gripes did not prevent me from buying and thoroughly enjoying two more books in this series in quick succession. I have also bought book 4 and the two Lacey Flint novellas, but I figured I need a little change so I’m currently reading Primo Levi.
Published 2011 by Minotaur Books.