Review: Dead Clever by Scarlett Thomas

4. Dead Clever by Scarlett Thomas
Publication: Justin, Charles & Co. (February 25, 2003), Hardcover, 275pp / ISBN 1932112014
Genre: Mystery
Challenges: A to Z Challenge (T)
Read: January 5-6, 2010
Source: Library
Summary from Amazon:

Meet Lily Pascale, London party girl and brash young thing, who throws in the towel on her job, her boyfriend and her London flat to move back to the wild coast of Devon. Smart, willful, incautious and nearly terminally curious, Lily arrives at her new job at the local college on the same day student Stephanie Duncan is brutally murdered there. Suddenly, Lily finds herself smack in the middle of a real life crime, and Stephanie’s murder is just the beginning. Fenn Baker, the rather attractive Victorian Fiction specialist has disappeared (just as Lily was hoping to get to know him better), a student is going completely bonkers, and Lily’s weirdo boss Professor Valentine is behaving very strangely. Then another body is found and the questions start piling up.


I started reading this book at the recommendation of a coworker, and I’m a little conflicted about how I feel. On the one hand, I liked the writing and the mystery. I LOVED the mystery. It was scary and kinda ridiculous and would make an excellent episode of Law & Order: SVU. Or maybe Midsomer Murders– it has that “small town gone nutso” feeling to it.

The problem I had was with Lily herself. I was following her along her story, rooting her on, a little worried in case her love interest turned out to be the murderer (as they so often do in murder mysteries), waiting to see how she’d become involved with the case and end up solving it. But then. Oh, but then she did something unforgivable.

Warning you now for spoilers. The student who had witnessed the murder showed up to Lily’s class, covered in urine and dirt, obviously disturbed and on the edge of a breakdown, if he hadn’t already fallen over it. Lily recognized these things, knew he needed help and went off to try and find someone, except there was no one left on campus. All right, that’s fine. She could just find a phone and call an ambulance, right? Except she doesn’t. She goes back to where she left the student, sees that he left while she was away, and then goes off merrily to her date.

I cannot even describe to you how horrified and repulsed I was when she did that. Her student is obviously in need of help and she just shrugs it off like it was nothing? Yes, she did sort of tell her superior about him, but then backed off at the last moment and thought nothing more of it until he was discovered nearly dead the next morning (he later died after falling into a coma). What the HELL. That is just so incredibly irresponsible and reprehensible and disgusting that I immediately lost all positive feelings for her, and only continued reading the book to see who the killer was.

It’s unfortunate that happened, and that even after the kid died she couldn’t really round up any guilty feelings about her own misaction, because if she had handled it differently I would have liked this book a lot more. It’s hard to like a book when you hate the main character, and though I tried to push my negative feelings for Lily out of the way, every other thing she did afterwards just grated on my nerves, both little and small. She dismissed any responsibility for the student’s death (although later she does admit that she ignored his cry for help because she was scared of him); she “instinctively knew” that her love interest wasn’t involved with the murder (“He can’t be the killer because I want to bone him!” I HATE that in a mystery); she hordes evidence so she can figure out what they mean while telling herself the police wouldn’t be interested because they’re “trivial details”; she’s constantly thinking about her love interest (who she only knew for about a day and half, by the way) and obsessing over where he disappeared to; etc etc.

It was frustrating! I liked practically everything else about the book and had been enjoying it up until that instance, but Lily was so selfish and deluded that I could barely stand reading anything else with her in it. So: I’m conflicted. I didn’t hate the book, but I didn’t love it, either.

I think maybe I won’t read any of the other books in this series, but I’ll probably try another of Ms Thomas’ books– just one without Lily. Oh, and for the record, my coworker agrees with me about Lily– she really annoyed her, too, but Ms Thomas’ writing was why she recced it to me. Haha?


Find your own copy @ Amazon or IndieBound

Other reviews: Complete Review

Dang, I’ve read four books so far this year and I’ve either been ambivalent about or hated three! I need to read some better books, STAT.

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