S. J. Bolton
Genre: gothic thriller horror
In my experience, ‘S. J. Bolton’ and ‘happy endings’ are not used together in the same sentence. Now, I’ve only been blogging seven months, but I’ve already reviewed Awakening, Now You See Me, Blood Harvest and Dead Scared; Sacrifice makes it a full complement. I would describe none of the first four titles as having a happy ending. Sure, the crimes are solved, the bad guy is locked away/punished and the protagonists are no longer in danger, but their futures are often left uncertain and Ms Bolton perversely leaves us unsatisfied with the paths she’s made for the characters we’ve come to love. The exception is the secondary couple in Dead Scared, so there’s some hope left in me yet for her future works.
Sacrifice was Ms Bolton’s first novel and it’s a chilling and stunning debut. Annoyingly, it’s the book I’ve read last, but what can you do. It’s terrifyingly good and I’m finding it very hard to measure it against her other novels; one thing I do know is that it is a definite keeper.
Tora Hamilton has been the Franklin Stone hospital’s consultant paediatric surgeon for sixth months in the Shetlands, but she’s not particularly happy. Oh sure, she’s reached the stage she’s been aiming for in her career and is very good at what she does, but her husband’s job takes him away much of the time, she’s not much liked at the hospital, and after two years of trying, she’s still not pregnant – made even more painful by the fact that she works with pregnant mothers and delivers babies on a daily basis. To top it off, whilst digging a hole in her garden to bury her beloved horse Jamie, Tora comes across a woman’s body, perfectly preserved by the peat-rich soils.
If that wasn’t bad enough to give a person nightmares, the woman’s heart was hacked amateurishly out of her chest and runes were carved into her back – runes that are similar to the ones on display in Tora’s basement. Tora’s expertise shows undoubtedly that the woman had recently given birth less than ten days before death and no one is more repulsed than Tora herself.
Tora’s dissatisfaction at work is bad enough without her boss returning from his sabbatical and suggesting she take some time off to cope with what she’s just dug up (haha!) Kenn Gifford is charismatic and his Norse ancestry makes him devilishly good-looking. He flirts with Tora shamelessly and she can’t help but feel attracted despite her love for Duncan – who hates Kenn with a passion.
Tora isn’t much convinced that the police – barring one officer – are taking the investigation seriously. Detective Sergeant Dana Tulloch is not giving up easily. Her instincts tell her that something is deeply wrong and she is compelled to dig deeper against the commands of her superior who always seems to push her in the opposite direction. Her methods might be unorthodox and sometimes questionable, but her motives are honest and together with Tora, they begin uncovering a secret that seems to involve everyone that Tora is meant to trust …
I loved this and I can see why Ms Bolton was heralded as a ‘next big thing’ at the time that Sacrifice was published. Her writing style is hypnotic and pulls you in like only the best authors can do. It’s a wonderful way to pass the time.
Tora was cool. It was interesting to learn about some of the more gory aspects of pregnancy and Ms Bolton clearly does her research. She’s plucky, not afraid to defy superior instructions where she feels necessary and is understandably furious when she finds that the people she’s meant to be trusting are conspiring against her. I loved her collaboration with Dana and Helen later on (real girl power!) as she’s not one to back down from a seemingly impossible or daunting task. I’m glad she’s found her happy ending, but I wouldn’t say no to seeing more of her!
There’s a stark difference between Tora and Ms Bolton’s other heroines: Tora is married which is a very new concept for me, given my other experience of Ms Bolton’s heroines. Perhaps she tried it here, decided she didn’t like it and made all her other heroines annoyingly single and incompatible with relationships just to get her readers all riled up and sexual tension obsessed like I am. Tora and Duncan’s relationship isn’t perfect, which is all fine and dandy since it would be boring if it was, but there were too many times where I considered Duncan a suspect for me to fully accept him as a character and Tora’s husband. Yes, the story worked better because Tora was married rather than single, but I much prefer that Ms Bolton’s other heroines are unattached.
It was great to see what Dana was like before we meet her in Now You See Me. We had been told of her London promotion after her major role in a Scottish investigation, but not having read Sacrifice first, I knew nothing of the case or that Dana’s appearance in NYSM hadn’t been her first. Some details mentioned in NYSM were answered by Sacrifice and it was satisfying to see a side to Dana we wouldn’t otherwise see, because Lacey’s judgement is clouded by her police-honed instincts and perspective. She worked well with Tora and I loved seeing all the nitty gritty details of Dana at work. She’s an intriguing character and one that I would like to see have her own story, but some things might be left better to the imagination.
Ms Bolton spins a realistic, enthralling story and you can’t help but be dragged in. The subject was pretty grim and while I found it hard to come to terms with some of the more mythical parts of the story, I can see why some people might believe it and there’s always that undercurrent of possible truth which makes Ms Bolton such a great writer to read. You’re thrown with so many possible suspects that you can never quite pinpoint who it might really be; when you discover that someone who you would never have imagined to be to blame, you can’t help but admire Ms Bolton for sneaking that past you so skilfully. It annoys me every time and I often ask myself why I hadn’t considered them guilty, but I don’t think that I’m ever going to get it right.
So. I loved, loved, loved this book. I literally couldn’t put it down and had to forcibly stop myself from continuing when I got past the early hours of the morning and had to get ready for work in a few hours. It made for thrilling train-reading and I love it for scaring the shit out of me yet not haunting my sleep at night. It may not be for everyone, but if you want a gritty, realistic thriller that has strong mythological roots and a heavy emphasis on police procedure, then this is for you. You won’t be disappointed.
Image courtesy of Book Depository