Author – S J Bolton
Published – 2009 (paperback)
Genre – Mystery
I picked this book as my first choice in “The Great Transworld Crime Caper” – an opportunity to choose three books from a list of first crime novels with the only committment being to provide reviews. As well as Sacrifice I chose Past Caring by Robert Goddard and The Business of Dying by Simon Kernick.
Moving to remote Shetland has been unsettling enough for consultant surgeon Tora Hamilton; even before the gruesome discovery she makes one rain-drenched afternoon …Deep in the peat soil of her field she is shocked to find the perfectly preserved body of a young woman, a gaping hole where her heart has been brutally removed and three rune marks etched into her skin. The marks bear an eerie resemblance to carvings Tora has seen all over the islands, and she quickly uncovers disturbing links to an ancient legend. But as Tora investigates she is warned by the local police, her boss, and even her husband, to leave well alone. And even though it chills her to the bone to admit it … something tells her their concern isn’t genuine.
Tora and her husband have been living in Shetland for around 6 months, her husband having grown up on one of the isles, when she finds a body buried in her garden. The victim seems to have been mutilated and when it appears that she may have given birth just before she died, Tora, who is a consultant obstetrician at the local hospital, becomes involved in trying to find out more about her. Tora is drawn further into the investigation when one of the detectives investigating the case asks for her help. It becomes obvious during the story that there is a conspiracy amongst the people on the island, but the twists and turns mean that as soon as you think one person is trustworthy, something else happens to make you wonder if Tora really should trust them. During all of this Tora has some issues in her personal life, frustrated as she is by her failure to start a family with her husband.
The story starts on page one – no long drawn out scene setting, or getting to know characters – all that is dealt with as we follow Tora’s story. For me Tora is a great lead character – very believable and you really get drawn into the situations in which she finds herself. There are lots of cliff-hangers along the way which meant that I read the book pretty quickly – despite it being quite long. And a cliché here – a real page turner.
Reading the blurb about this book with gruesome and mysterious happenings on Shetland I couldn’t help thinking of The Wickerman. I think that probably just helps to add an air of menace as you read the story – I thought I could see some similarities, but it would be hard to avoid any given the locations etc.
The remote and unforgiving landscape add to the menace of the story – so I was surprised to find that the author only visited the Shetland Isles after the book was finished. So now I wonder if they really are as I pictured them.
I have one suggestion – I think the book would have really benefited from a map so that I had a better idea of where the different locations were. And a criticism – the one part I found a little odd was the speed with which Tora is taken into the confidence of the detective – something which felt to me as if it came a bit out of the blue.
I have to say that I thoroughly enjoyed this book, an excellent debut thriller, and I’ll be looking for others by the author.
Score – 4/5