DC Lacey Flint is sent to work undercover at Cambridge University, posing as a student at St John's College. She is sent there by DI Mark Joesbury, after it emerges that an alarming number of students are committing suicide there in unusual and bizarre ways. A previously established personal bond between Lacey and Mark means that he is very hesitant for her to be sent into this situation, but she is nevertheless placed there, with a psychiatrist named Evi Oliver being the only other person there who knows that Lacey is not a real student. Having treated some of the young women who have suffered depression, and reported to her about having experiencing strange, unsettling dreams and visions, Evi is aware of the situation and is also beginning to experience disturbing events in her own home and life too. Despite not being assigned to actually investigate the situation, merely to be on-site and pose as a depression-prone student, Lacey finds herself discovering some deeply uncomfortable facts about what has been happening, and cannot help but begin to look further, especially after she herself begins to experience similar terrible nightmares.
The apparent suicides are diverse in the methods used and the results are truly frightening: 'We've got jumping off high buildings, self-immolation, self-stabbing, self-decapitation. It's as if they're competing to see who can come up with the most bizarre exit strategy.' There are a few flashback chapters dotted within the main story that slowly build to give us parts of the picture regarding what led to these suicides and who may be involved, but you are really kept on tenterhooks by the author. Lacey's experiences are recounted in the first-person, it is her we most closely follow here, but the author also frequently offers us the points of view of Evi, and Mark too, which gives us more insight into the characters themselves, into what is happening, and how it is perceived by each of them. As time progresses, more unusual happenings lead Evi and Lacey to wonder, what is real and what is imagined? How are these events all occurring, are they really just individual suicides, could the Internet have a role to play in inciting them, is something even more sinister going on?
With unresolved tension and attraction between Lacey and her boss Mark, the reader is intrigued as to what may or may not happen on a personal level, as well as with their professional relationship. This is my first read by this author - I believe the characters were first featured in previous book Now You See Me, which I must go back and read. This is a scary, dark and compelling thriller, with a cleverly weaved plot and an unsettling atmosphere. It was intriguing reading this story featuring Cambridge locations in such a way, as it is a place I frequently visit and so this added to the impact of the story for me. I look forward to reading the previous, and future, novels by S. J. Bolton with relish. I won't read them alone in the dark though!