Crime fiction for young adults is a genre that's in thankfully good health, and I've often considered the prolific (thirty novels in twenty years!) Anne Cassidy to be at the vanguard of the movement. She made a big splash with the truly outstanding Looking for JJ, and her output has been consistently good since.
Dead Time is the first in a new series of books entitled, aptly enough, 'The Murder Notebooks'. It follows the fortunes of Rose and Joshua, a stepbrother and sister whose parents (Rose's mother, Joshua's father) both disappeared five years ago. Joshua is determined to find them, refusing to accept they're dead, whilst Rose, fresh out of a priveliged life at boarding school, feels she has enough on her plate trying to fit in with her peers at sixth form college. But when two students from her college are murdered in two separate incidents that may or may not be related, Rose finds herself caught up in mysteries of the past and the present. Are the two somehow connected?
As ever, Cassidy spins an engaging enough tale, filled with the right amounts of suspense to keep the pages turning and the reader guessing as Rose gradually pieces the mystery together. Rose, a 'posh girl' out of her comfort zone, is an appealingly vulnerable but determined protagonist. She makes lots of mistakes (and without wanting to give too much away, a rather huge one towards the end of the book), but this only serves to make her more empathetic.
Where perhaps Dead Time struggles a bit is in its attempts to marry together the mystery of the missing parents with the suspense in the present day. The latter is foregrounded at the expense of the former a little too often. In fairness, it is the parental subplot that keeps Joshua in the story, and the complex relationship between Rose and Joshua provides Dead Time's emotional core. Yet the scenes where Rose and Joshua investigate their parents' disappearance lack the urgency of the present day murders, which is a shame. Again, without wanting to give the story away, it does feel like both storylines are connected somehow: but we are left to do perhaps a bit too much guesswork in this regard.
A good read, then, but falling a little short of the lofty peaks scaled by Cassidy's very best work. Killing Rachel, the sequel, follows in the near future, and Dead Time does leave enough intriguing loose ends to make the reader want to read that book. Presumably, the missing parents storyline will be developed further, although it will do so alongside the mystery of Rachel's death (hence the title). It remains to be seen if Cassidy can pull off the tricky skill of juggling two seemingly disparate storylines in one novel with more success next time around.