Like This, For Ever by S. J. Bolton (@authorsjbolton)

These books are creepy as crap.

Like This, For Ever is the third book in the Lacey Flint series by S. J. Bolton. I have no idea why I originally picked up this series. I think I was looking for another book, found Dead Scared, got it home and discovered it was the second in a series. This makes me cranky enough that I considered not finding the first book, but the second one sounded so interesting I decided it was worth it. If you’re looking for a new crime drama series, stop reading now, go get the first book, and save yourself from spoilers.

I’m glad I did. I now patiently wait for the next book in the series.
One of the reasons I like it so much – it’s dark. Like really, really dark. There’s a no-holds barred feel to these books. Lacey is not a very likable character. She’s closed off from everyone. She’s daring, young, and not stupid. In the first book, she’s a purveyor of casual sex and the solitary life. Then she meets DI Joesbury and things start to change. Oh goody, here we go – troubled girl meets handsome cop and suddenly her entire life is fixed. Except that’s not what happens. Yes, she and Mark build a connection in the first book. It goes awry but they’re trying to make it work in the second book – when Lacey goes undercover and things become 100% terrifying. I have to say, the second book gave me the serious heebies. Now, we’re in the third book and Lacey’s still messed up. So badly messed up that she’s not working and she’s definitely not dating. She’s essentially cut herself off from all human contact, except for a complicated carry forward from the first book. We’re only a few months out from the end of the second book, so her inability to function doesn’t feel drawn out. She was traumatized and would legitimately not be back to work yet.

This, unfortunately, leads to one of my qualms with the series. Lacey keeps finding that she is central to all these investigation. She just stumbles into cases and ends up with some deep personal connections (or on the job because of these connections in Book 2). She’s a young constable, not a seasoned investigator; there are only so many of these cases she would reasonably be working on. She becomes intimately involved in a major case when she’s not even at work? Without her involvement, the police apparently wouldn’t have been privy to a good chunk of the information that led to solving the case. Everything would have fallen apart without Lacey.

Bolton only has so many more of these coincidences left before it becomes formulaic. It would make sense if the cases came in to the police and she was assigned as part of her job (think Law & Order, Criminal Minds, etc), but how many times can Flint just find these cases. Then she makes bad decisions about actually telling her co-workers, you know – the cops, about crucial information and always ends up in some perilous situation. She’s a hard knocks girl that doesn’t need any help, but she pushes it too far. In For Ever, she actually has this conversation with herself. She knows she’s making bad choices (I can’t remember if this happened in the first two books), but she does it anyway. I almost find that endearing. Almost. We’ve all had those moments, but they usually don’t end up getting sledgehammered in the head by a serial killer.

That’s another thing I like about Bolton in general, but this book in particular – you can never write off anyone as the possible killer. There are an appropriate number of convincing red herrings. Tulloch muses near the beginning that the killer might be a woman and, at this point in the series, we trust her instincts. But there are enough male characters and enough uncertainty that you think this might not be the case. So I was flip flopping a bit, but I was pretty certain it was Henry and Jorge’s mom. She was just far enough outside the immediate circle to be a surprising but believable option.

Then blamo, it’s her 14 year old son! And it total reads. He’s an actor, so he can hide his dark side, or pass off moments of weirdness to being an actor. Whether or not he actually remembers the trauma of his father’s death, the media surrounding the event would have ensured that he felt like he did. His obsession with blood was the most important aspect of the deaths. The one thing I couldn’t get behind was that he could have killed those two boys on the boat and cleaned up so well that there weren’t even forensic traces until they dry docked the boat. Especially after the descriptions of the final kill room. I don’t know any 14 year old that cleans that well. The choice of victims either reflects his brother or the children soldier victims. This isn’t really made clear. The flashes to therapy sessions avoids this entirely, but Bolton makes a big deal about it with Barney. It feels like a loose end that could have been tied up in a couple sentences.

I liked the inclusion of half the story from Barney’s perspective. He’s Lacey’s neighbour, so he’s giving us insight into how much she’s changed without forcing the reader to live entirely inside her spiral into cutting. He also allows the introduction of the children and most of the adult characters in an organic way. The overlap in his life (rugby) and Huck’s life brings Joesbury into collision with a lot of the adult characters that could have been the killer without having Mark overly present in his son’s life.

I’m not entirely sold on this Tulloch hates Lacey thing. Yes, Lacey is screwed up. Yes, she has messed around with their cases. Her relationship with Joesbury is complicated and he is Tulloch’s best friend. I would forgive Dana for not loving Lacey based on any of these points, but in this novel, her feelings were simply jealousy. She wants to have a baby, and she thinks she wants it to be Mark’s, but she acts like a jealous girlfriend whenever Lacey is around. It doesn’t feel like the strong female character represented in the other books she’s appeared in (including non-serial novels)

Overall, I liked the structure of the novel a lot. It successful jumped the third book hurdle; however, Bolton needs to keep a couple things in mind:
All three books have taken place in less than a year, so the pace is starting to trudge.
If she’s going to keep revisiting the prison scenario, it needs to go somewhere.
There’s so much overlap between the characters in the series and from stand-alone books, it starts to get confusing.
There has to be something positive at some point. The stories can be dark, but if the characters don’t get a little happy juice, it’s going to become hard on the reader.

*A little personal quirk – the title makes me insane. Forever is one word, not two. Is this some kind of British spelling thing?


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