|LIKE THIS, FOR EVER
Sharon Bolton (www.sharonbolton.com)
Barney Roberts is 11 years old and obsessed with two things: finding his mother, who walked out on him and his father while Barney was still too young to have much of a memory of her; and understanding the series of murders of five London boys, all exactly his own age, that have gripped the city for almost two months. As Barney begins to see patterns in the murders, he suspects the worst and enlists the help of his next door neighbour, the troubled Met detective Lacey Flint. Meanwhile, Detective Inspector Dana Tulloch has theories of her own, and Lacey Flint’s role in the case awakens her suspicions immediately. When a sixth boy disappears, these women find themselves in a race against time to find the identity of the killer and stop him before he claims another life.
Like This, For Ever is Sharon Bolton’s seventh novel, and sees a rebranding of the author from the familiar S.J. Bolton, including a complete re-release of the entire back catalogue. It’s my first Bolton read and, not knowing what to expect, was pleasantly surprised with what I found inside. Bolton puts us inside the head of young Barney from the outset, switching to established series characters as and when necessary. Barney is the lynchpin of the novel, and Bolton grooms him perfectly: an intelligent young boy with serious emotional problems, the most obvious of which is the almost-crippling OCD that plagues his every action. As we follow his journey, and see life through his eyes, we become sucked into his way of looking at the world, so his logic seems sound when he reaches the, perhaps, obvious conclusion as to the possible identity of the killer. We’re also given enough rope to believe that Barney might, somehow, be involved in the murders himself – after all, why, out of all the eleven-year-old boys in London, should we be most interested in this one?
From the start, Like This, For Ever captures the attention and imagination of the reader. As we follow Barney from one seemingly logical conclusion to the next, it’s impossible for us to start formulating our own theories, but each fresh twist, sleight of hand, stunning misdirection has us constantly scrambling to keep up, re-evaluating our options almost as often as we turn a page. The book is a slow starter – when the story opens, five boys have already been murdered, and this will remain the case for the majority of the novel. Around the halfway mark there is a sudden sense that Bolton has shifted gear and, from that point on, it is impossible to set this book down, even for the briefest of moments. As we approach the climax, everyone is a suspect and our emotional bond with these characters compels us to know what happens next?
The pages of this slick, clever novel, are littered with clues for the eagle-eyed reader, so while all of the suspects are plausible, the final reveal is intensely satisfying and entirely logical. Having read Like This, For Ever, it is impossible not to come away a fan of Ms Bolton. For me, too, the disappointment that I hadn’t discovered S.J. Bolton long before now.
The novel is an interesting starting point for the first time reader of Bolton’s work. While the story is self-contained, it is part of a larger series, and there is a lot of background that tended to go over my head for the most part (what, exactly, happened to Lacey during her time in Cambridge, and why has it had such an effect on her? And who is the mysterious, and unnamed, prisoner that she visits from time to time?). While I appreciate that authors in this situation need to find a balance between pleasing their existing fan base, and attracting new readers, there is a definite feeling that Like This, For Ever forms part of a more tightly-integrated series that requires the reader to have knowledge of what has gone before. It seems a fairly minor complaint, and is my own fault for reading the books out of order, but for me the series characters – Lacey Flint, Dana Tulloch, Mark Joesbury – seemed less important, more of a diversion than an integral part of the plot, than those introduced for the first time in this volume. Which, considering the book’s genre, is far from ideal. Which isn’t to say that the experience was spoiled as a result; far from it: not only did I thoroughly enjoy Like This, For Ever, but I now have a burning desire to answer the questions I asked earlier in this paragraph.
Sharon Bolton’s latest novel is designed to keep you on your toes, and awake long into the night. Its subject matter is intense and timely, and should strike a particular chord with parents in the audience. Tightly-plotted, perfectly-paced and with enough twists and deliberate misdirection to always keep the reader on uneasy footing, Like This, For Ever is the perfect example of the modern British crime thriller. For me, an absolute winner, it adds Sharon Bolton to my must-read watch-list for the future.