SJ Bolton

The Craftsman – Sharon Bolton

81ofF+-8H-LTitle – The Craftsman

Author – Sharon Bolton

Published – 2018

Genre – Crime fiction

I’ve been a fan Sharon Bolton’s books since I read Sacrifice, I missed The Craftsman when it was published so picked it up on an offer in (whispers) Tesco.

The story is told across two timelines. The book opens in the present (1999) with a dramatic scene in a graveyard, as it transpires a location that has some prominence within the story; it’s the funeral of Larry Glassbrook – former casket (or coffin) maker and convicted child-murder. The story is told in the first person by Florence Lovelady, now an Assistant Commissioner in the police, who has returned to the place, and the case, where her career was made. She and her teenage son are staying in the village for a couple of nights which seems to be in order bring some closure for her. As the day of the funeral unfolds the disturbing and chilling details of the death of the final teenager to die are revealed and it becomes clear why Glassbrook was so reviled.

While in Sabden Lovelady takes a trip to Glassbrook’s house, where she roomed as a WPC when she was in the local police,  while there she makes a discovery that makes her wonder if Glassbrook acted alone and implies that she may now be a target.

The story then skips back to 1969, the disappearence of the teenagers and the investigation to find them. This is a ‘Life on Mars’ type of leap, where the male-dominated force didn’t take kindly to any input from a woman, WPC or not. Sabden is a villlage in the shadow of the infamous Pendle Hill and not a welcoming one for the young Flossie Lovelady. So Lovelady is an outsider in lots of ways but seems to be the brightest person on the force – picking up on clues no-one else spots and eventually becoming a target herself. The location isn’t used by chance – the connection to the Pendle witches and the history of witchcraft is an important one and Lovelady herself finds a connection to some of the women in the local coven.

As the case is resolved the story moves back to 1999, Lovelady’s opened old wounds and yet again finds herself at the centre of the action.

I found the events of the case in 1969 a little flatter than most of Bolton’s police procedurals. It’s not a fault in the writing but a result of the structure of the story – giving the end of the investigation and the solution to disappearences upfront means that the opportunities for tension and jeopardy were reduced. Afterall, however damaged Florence may now be in 1999 we know that she survived whatever came her way.

The real tension and the real ‘creepy’ aspect of the story came towards the end of the book when the timeline returns to 1999 and Florence decides to pursue the idea that the case wasn’t resolved correctly.  There is one scene when she is in a house in the dark at night that I found particulalry tense!

Even if this was a little slower in the middle than I would have liked it was still an enjoyable (if dark) story. Lovelady was an engaging main character although she could be frustrating and behave inconsistently at times – but then we can all be a bit like that! The setting and the hints of witchcraft are used with quite a light touch, particularly at the beginning of the book – I can be quite critical of the use of supernatural elements in crime fiction but nothing here felt out of place.






Dead Woman Walking – Sharon Bolton

Title – Dead Woman Walking

Author – Sharon Bolton

Published – 2017

Genre – Crime fiction

I’ve been a big fan Sharon Bolton’s books and three of those I’ve reviewed have been five star reads so when I saw Dead Woman Walking in the library I had to borrow it.

The story is told through two timelines. In the present the book opens with a hot-air balloon flight near the Scottish border that goes disastrously awry after the passengers witness a brutal attack from their lofty position. This results in a chase sequence that lasts for a couple of chapters and culminates in the death of many of the passengers. But one young woman walks away from the crash and then she runs. She is in fear for her life and trusts no-one, even as the police start to search for her, she remains on the run.

The second timeline that interweaves the first starts over twenty years previously when the two sisters who were in the balloon flight were young girls. As this timeline moves forwards documenting the girls’ relationship we learn about the reasons that led to them being in the balloon and this is where a police procedural aspect comes into the story.

There are a number of reasons that I didn’t think this book was as well written or as gripping as the previous books I’ve read by the author. It relies on multiple twists but there wasn’t enough mis-direction and I had picked up on several of them before they were revealed. It stretches the reader’s credibility – I’ve always felt that the police procedural aspects of the author’s previous books have seemed authentic but this lacked that feeling and putting in a lot of twists means the author’s trying to mis-lead the reader, which makes you question everything you’re reading. Finally it felt like it was trying to cover too much ground – there were so many different aspects to the plot. I don’t want to give too much away but for most authors just a fraction of the themes would be enough for a compelling novel.

There were some enjoyable action sequences and some interesting themes were touched on. Very disappointed that this wasn’t as enjoyable as the previous books by the author.






Daisy in Chains – Sharon Bolton

8175tf2T71LTitle – Daisy in Chains

Author – Sharon Bolton

Published – 2 June 2016

Genre – Crime fiction

One of my favourite reads from 2015 was Little Black Lies by Sharon Bolton and she is quickly becoming one of my favourite current authors, so I was keen to get my hands on her latest title. I can say straight away that this didn’t disappoint and is certain to be one of my favourite books of 2016.

The premise of the book is that Hamish Wolfe has been convicted of the abduction and murder of a number of young women. He’s good looking and charismatic and while this might have helped him gain the trust of his victims, it also means that he attracts the attention of women who are drawn to men behind bars. These admirers are convinced of his innocence and a small group forms, led by his own mother, to do whatever they can to get him freed.

This is where Maggie Rose comes in – a lawyer who is renowned for her true-crime investigations and her success at getting convictions overturned on appeal, Wolfe’s supporters set out to persuade her to champion his case. Reclusive and enigmatic she is reluctant to become involved – she only takes on cases that she can win.

I don’t like to give ‘spoilers’ in reviews and when I started the book all I knew was the title and the author but I probably can’t do much of a review without saying that Maggie does agree to consider Wolfe’s case. In doing so Maggie also attracts the attention of the local police force who were responsible for Wolfe’s arrest. Her initial dealings are with DS Pete Weston, the man who caught Wolfe, and they strike up an unlikely friendship – because if Maggie takes up Wolfe’s cause she will be trying to prove that Weston did something wrong.

The background to much of the story comes from letters, newspaper articles, reports and documents as well as Maggie’s own writing about how she has influenced other appeals, and some of her thought’s on Wolfe’s case. In fact the case against him does seem to have room for some doubt and as I read I was constantly changing my mind as to whether I thought he was or wasn’t guilty. When Maggie agrees to visit Wolfe in prison another dynamic is added to the story – will she be taken in, will she become one of his admirers?

The story explores some themes (like the women who fall for men behind bars) that I’ve not really come across in other crime fiction before. The ‘miscarriage of justice’ premise is not new but Maggie’s perspective and character certainly are. There is also something unusual and quite topical about the victims of Wolfe’s crimes in that they were all ‘larger’ women. While that links back to a time in Wolfe’s days as a student when he and his friends were involved in some unscrupulous activities, the reports and articles about the deaths reflect some of the issues around prejudice and social media.

The book is filled with a chilling atmosphere that Bolton weaves into the story (including an out of season fairground!!) and there are plenty of changes of pace with a mix of tension and action that kept me turning the pages. I was drawn in by the characters – Wolfe the charming killer, Maggie the petite, eccentric investigator, Weston the dependable and slightly downtrodden policeman. All of them with something at stake.

From the gripping opening to the action-packed climax this is a read that I can’t recommend highly enough. Twisty and devious this is bound to be a top read for lovers of crime fiction and psychological thrillers. It’s also a book that I want to go back and read again just so that I can see how Bolton managed to keep me guessing.

Many thanks to the publisher for the review copy. You can see another point of view on Kate’s blog at For Winter Nights.


Little Black Lies – Sharon Bolton

81-jyQP7n-LTitle – Little Black Lies

Author – Sharon (SJ) Bolton

Published – 2 July 2015

Genre – Crime fiction / psychological thriller

I would normally wait until closer to the date of publication but I enjoyed this book so much that I can’t wait to tell people about it. If you met me at Crimefest and asked what the best book I’d read so far this year was then you will have heard me extolling the virtues of Little Black Lies already. I have to say that this is likely to be a shorter review than normal because I don’t really want to give very much of the story away.

The setting is unusual, it’s the Falkland Islands, and the remote location, rugged landscape and isolated community give Bolton a great setting, reminiscent of nordic / scandi noir.

The story, set in 1994, takes place over 6 days and is told in three parts, each from a different point of view. We start with Catrin, an Islander who lost her two small sons in an accident for which she holds her former best friend Rachel responsible. As the third anniversary of the boys’ deaths approaches she has come up with a plan which will put an end to the grief that still envelopes her. Her plans are interrupted when she is drafted in to help search for a small boy who has disappeared, and it seems this is not the first time a child has gone missing.

The other points of view are Callum, a former serviceman who fought on the islands and returned to settle, and Rachel, Catrin’s former best friend. Rather than swapping  pov through the book, the three sections are discrete and this gives you a much better feel for the three individuals. Using the different characters and their different perspectives is used to hide some facts and reveal others, which keeps the reader guessing.

I’ve not read all of Bolton’s books (yet) but there are certainly similarities in the themes of this book which are familiar from Sacrifice and Like This, For Ever. The death and loss of children can be seen as taboo and the grief and the devastating effect this has had on Catrin are both moving and credible. But having isolated herself from everyone who cares about her, Catrin is moving through to anger and revenge.

Bolton has a compelling way of writing and I know ‘page turner’ is something of a cliché but I really couldn’t put this down, I just had to find out what happened next. This is by far the book I have most enjoyed so far this year, a skilfully woven story with engaging and sympathetic characters that uses multiple perspectives to ingenious effect.

Thank you to the publisher for the netgalley. You can see another point of view over at In Search of the Classic Mystery Novel.


Like This, For Ever – Sharon Bolton

Title – Like This, For Ever91VffHBBmNL._SL1500_

Author – Sharon Bolton

Published – April 2013

Genre – Crime fiction

I had already read and reviewed both Sacrifice and Now You See Me by Sharon Bolton when I received this review copy from Transworld. This is the third in Bolton’s series featuring the character of Lacey Flint. I had a few reservations about Flint’s first outing in Now You See Me, and missed out on reading the sequel, Dead Scared. Skipping  a book in a series can be a problem and although there are a few oblique references to “what happened in Cambridge” that kept most of what I missed as a mystery, there was  enough to make clear the current situation with Flint and her colleagues.

The story surrounds the abduction of young boys whose bodies are subsequently found close to the Thames. Despite this being a potentially very dark, perhaps even taboo subject, Bolton manages to keep away from any possibly disturbing imagery yet conveys the fear that this creates in the community, and the pressure the Police are under to solve the case.

Bolton introduces us to a new character – Barney – an eleven  year old boy who has an unusual ability to see patterns that the rest of us would miss, and a habit of having blackouts when he can’t remember what he’s done. He and his group of friends are the ideal target for the killer but instead of staying safely indoors when he is left to his own devices by his father he takes on the role of amateur sleuth.

Following “what happened in Cambridge” Flint isn’t currently working with the police but is receiving counselling.  Despite her best intentions she becomes drawn into the case, acting as something of the “maverick detective” but her reluctance is genuine as is her exclusion from the investigation!

I started by suspecting everyone, then Bolton gave me cause to narrow my suspicions, but never in an obvious way. Suspects came into view and then I discounted them, only to suspect them all over again. I have to confess that I didn’t get “whodunit” until the very end – and was kicking myself for missing the very carefully placed clues. For me this is the real key to what sets this apart from other similar books I’ve read recently.

This is a great example of engaging and gripping crime fiction. Flint has her own demons to face but is becoming a more rounded character who is easier to sympathise or empathise with than before. The relationships between the main characters (Flint, Joesbury, Tulloch) continue to develop, but never at the expense of the pace. Bolton injects some great tension into the story, especially in the opening chapter, and the pace ebbs and flows through the book as the investigating team track down their suspects. Personally I also appreciate the London setting, and the City is one I recognise more than perhaps darker books like Hanna Jameson’s.

There are a number of bloggers who can be effusive about every book they review – either not reviewing anything that they can’t give a glowing review to, or just praising everything they read – but when something comes out that’s better than the last book they read they have nowhere to go. So I am pleased that I only rated Now You See Me as a 4/5 because I can say without a shadow of a doubt that this is a 5 star read and the best thing I’ve read in 2013!

Score – 5/5

Now You See Me – S J Bolton

91UHN1Rj95L._SL1500_Title – Now You See Me

Author – Sharon Bolton

Published – 2011

Genre – Crime fiction

I really enjoyed Sharon Bolton’s debut, Sacrifice, so I was pleased to receive this review copy of Now You See Me from Transworld Books.

As with her first book, there’s no preamble or scene-setting here – Bolton takes the reader straight into the action with the opening line “A dead woman was leaning against my car.” The car in question belongs to Detective Constable Lacey Flint, a twenty-something, inexperienced London police officer. The brutal murder of a woman in broad daylight on a London housing estate sets a police investigation in motion, and carrying the evidence of the dead woman’s blood on her, Flint seems likely to only have a peripheral involvement.

It was good to see the character of DI Dana Tulloch, who appeared in Sacrifice, take charge of the investigation, and she’s accompanied at the first crime scene by another DI – Mark Joesbury. Joesbury is part of a covert operations team, but bored during a period of convalescence he makes his presence felt in Tulloch’s investigation.

Perhaps so that the senior officers can keep a keep a closer eye on her, Flint finds herself temporarily attached to the investigating team. However, she earns her place when it becomes apparent that she is an expert on Jack the Ripper, and the initial attack appears to be a copycat of a Ripper murder. In fact, Flint herself is mentioned by name in a note sent to a local journalist, suggesting that there may be more of a connection to her than just coincidence!

In true Ripper style the murders which occur are pretty gruesome, although on the upside (if there is one) this is mostly when the investigators find the remains, rather than being privy to the details of the horrific attacks when they happen. As the killer continues their onslaught it becomes apparent that there is a method to their madness, and the implications are not good for Flint.

Although this was an unusual slant on the Jack the Ripper copycat serial killer, it does feel like quite a recurring theme in crime fiction. Personally I found it difficult, especially in the early part of the book, not to draw parallels with the first series of Whitechapel on TV, which proved a little distracting. .

There is a “will they, won’t they” aspect to Flint’s relationship with Joesbury, something that probably works better for me on a screen than it does in print. I’m thinking of Moonlighting, Castle and the TV series of Bones, where it adds an extra dimension to the stories, but in print I think it falls a bit flat.

In some ways the book felt a little inconsistent – for several reasons Flint is keen to keep a low profile, something she keeps reminding herself, but there she is at the heart of the investigation into these gruesome crimes. It’s also surprising that Joesbury becomes as involved as he does when he’s nothing to do with the investigating team.

But these are minor quibbles – this a gripping police-procedural with a psychological aspect and a few twists and turns along the way before reaching a thrilling climax.

You can see other opinions on this title at Leeswammes’ blog and So Many Books, So Little Time.

Score – 4/5

Sacrifice – S J Bolton

81Pu7GNDf2L._SL1500_Title – Sacrifice

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