S.J. Bolton: Sacrifice (2008)

Danielle recently wrote about S.J. Bolton’s book Now You See Me and I really liked the tone of it and wanted to read one of her books. I got her first novel Sacrifice instead because I liked the idea of a book set on The Shetland Islands. I know some of the islands off the Scottish coast and I find the landscape incredibly beautiful.

Tora, an obstetrician from London, is married to a man from The Shetland Islands. Duncan hasn’t been living on the islands for over twenty years but now he wants to return and Tora follows him. She has found a job in a local clinic. They live in a house in the country, quite far away from any other houses or farms which doesn’t bother Tora too much as she grew up on a horse farm.

The novel opens with Tora trying to bury her beloved horse Jamie. While digging in the field she finds something utterly disturbing, namely a corpse wrapped in fabric. Whether the dead person has been lying in its peat grave since the earliest days of Shetland Civilization or been buried recently isn’t sure at first but the police soon find out, the body hasn’t been dead for longer than two years. When they unwrap the corpse they discover something quite grisly. The dead womans heart has ben cut out and there are runic symbols carved into the skin of her back. On top of that the dead woman must have given birth right before she was killed.

Tora is a very determined woman and the shock to find a body on her land triggers an urge to help find the killer. Being a doctor allows her to have access to much more information than even the police. She teams up with a police woman, Dana, also a foreigner, who has a hard time being accepted by the locals. The two women start to dig quite deep into some mysterious things. Tora’s investigation isn’t entirely legal but she can’t stop it, even less when she discovers that the dental records of a woman who has died of cancer two years ago match the records of the dead body in her peat field.

From the early moments in the novel, it’s obvious that Tora endangers herself with this investigation. And when she wakes one night and thinks that someone is in her bedroom, she is sure her life is threatened.

The fact that Tora lives in this lonely house on her own most of the time, because Duncan is away for work, heightens the feeling of threat. She and Dana stumble from one eerie discovery to the next and I really speeded through the 550 pages because I wanted to find out what was going on.

This is a book to read in almost one sitting, if you break the speed for a while, which I did, you lose momentum and the end might not go down so well. I saw Danielle reviewed Sacrifice here as well and there is a comment from the author saying that she herself wasn’t too sure about the ending (if you intend to read this book don’t read the authors’ comment it does give away a lot).

I can only say, this is a great read, if you rush through it but a part of the explanation was a disappointment for me. It’s too unbelievable. Still, the book works well on many levels. It’s very suspenseful and has a great atmosphere. Something I really liked was the description of the friendship between Tora and Dana. They both do not easily trust other people but they soon feel quite close. Also these are not your typical “women in jeopardy”, they are threatened but they are gutsy and can fight for themselves. Being threatened worries them but doesn’t keep them from going on. I might very well read another S.J. Bolton. Judging from the comment she left on Danielle’s blog, I could imagine, she did in her more recent books stay away from stretching believability too much.