The first book in the Murder Notebooks series, Dead Time follows 17 year old Rose Smith and her common-law step brother Joshua Johnson. For three years they lived together as a family with Rose’s mother and Joshua’s father, both police officers. One night five years ago their parents went out for a meal and never returned. Rose was sent to live with her uptight and snobbish grandmother in a wealthy area of London and Joshua was sent to Newcastle to live with his uncle.
Now they’re meeting again for the first time in years, despite the fact that Rose’s grandmother has forbidden it. Excited to see Josh again, Rose is waiting to catch her train to meet him when she witnesses the murder of one of her college classmates. A bully and a thug right up until his final moments, Rose can’t honestly say that she’s sad about his death, but it does connect her to a series of mysterious events, other murders and deadly secrets. Rose finds herself under suspicion when she is found at the scene of a second tragic and violent murder.
In between snooping on certain shady characters from college and attempting to solve the two murders, Rose is working hard on re-establishing her relationship with Josh. Sometimes it’s natural and easy; sometimes it’s awkward and stilted. Both characters are flawed and complex and prone to moods and stroppy episodes. Their main conflict is that Josh is obsessed with searching for their missing parents. Rose just wants to put it behind her and move on, but Josh thinks he has found a clue and is determined to follow his lead to see if he can learn anything about his dad’s last movements. Together with Josh’s computer genius roommate Skeggsie they might just have the resources to find the answers to two murders and two disappearances.
I liked the tension that Cassidy builds up throughout the novel- each unearthed piece of evidence raises more questions, every discovery muddies the water. I loved how every character seemed suspicious, each motive seems as valid as the next one. I thought the way that two separate investigations (Rose’s murder quest and Josh’s Missing Persons one) accidentally converge.
I became quite invested in the characters, though I doubt that they are actually completely likable people. Rose is withdrawn and miserable, suffering from some severe ennui, but she’s lonely and displaced, so her enforced isolation is quite understandable. Josh comes across as a little obsessive and selfish, but he’s traumatised and single-minded so again his behaviour is hardly a mystery. I found their anxiety and their bickering to be quite natural and convincing, though I can’t say that Rose’s confusing romantic feelings for her not-quite-stepbrother added much tension to the story. My one problem with the characters was the naive way they went about their investigation- ruining evidence, lying to the police and their half-baked attempts at surveillance. I know they’re teen amateurs, hence the reason we root for them, but any British teen has seen enough cop shows to know that you don’t start making calls off a phone that belonged to a murder victim and was found concealed at the crime scene. You just wouldn’t.