British crime writer S.J. Bolton’s feisty but damaged heroine, London Det. Constable Lacey Flint, goes undercover as a Cambridge University student in Dead Scared.
After several stand-alone novels, what about Lacey Flint inspired you to make her a series character?
When I finished writing Now You See Me, the first book in which Lacey appears, I knew that her story had only just begun. Only by the end of the book can the reader hope to understand who Lacey is, where she has come from, and what events shaped the face she shows to the world. What fascinated me (and I hope will intrigue the reader, too) is how a woman with more baggage than JFK during a luggage handlers’ strike will cope in a world that will no longer allow her to hide.
Why did you choose Cambridge University as the setting?
Whenever I find myself in an exceptionally beautiful environment, I can’t help asking myself—what lies beneath? I’m fascinated by the idea of a perfect surface concealing a rotten core. Not to suggest that the real Cambridge University has a rotten core—it’s one of the foremost academic institutions in the world! But I can’t help thinking that young people, away from home for the first time, amongst the country’s elite, in a place where Wilberforce and Wordsworth aren’t characters from history but alumni, are going to feel under tremendous pressure. It’s precisely this vulnerability that Dead Scared explores and exploits.
What first appealed to you about the topic of student suicides?
Some years ago, I read about the problem of cyber bullying and about vulnerable people being pushed into taking their own lives by those with whom they have only a virtual relationship. As I delved deeper, I learned about suicide Web sites, where the deeply depressed can make contact with the dangerously disturbed, where they can get endless practical advice on how to end their own lives. And encouragement to do so. This shocked me to the core, and I felt that, however dark, it was a subject I had to explore further.
Your interest in folklore and mythology is evident in your other books. Did folklore influence this novel?
Quite early in the planning stage I decided that this would be a folklore-free book. The city of Cambridge is so ancient and so venerable that weaving an invented mythology into the story seemed superfluous, even frivolous. What we have instead is a very contemporary crime played against the background of a city so beautiful it could have been from a fairy tale. That’s not to say I’ve shaken off my love of folklore. It’s back—darker than ever—in my next book.