Author: S J Bolton
Publisher: Bantam Press 
Tora Hamilton is an obstetric surgeon who moves to the Shetland Isles with her husband Duncan, a native of the Isles who hasn’t been home for twenty years. As she’s digging a hole to bury her horse on her farm she finds the body of a young woman buried in the peat. It wouldn’t be a mystery novel if this were a straightforward discovery of course and a series of increasingly sinister events follows as Tora and a local police woman try to find out who the woman is and how she cam to be buried there.
I’m a city girl. In my 20’s I spent three years living in a semi-rural location but, although there were aspects of the lifestyle I appreciated, I never felt at home there like I do with the hum, pace and capacity for anonymity of urban life. Despite my preference, or possibly because of it, I am a sucker for the unfamiliarity of stories set in isolated places which is why I grabbed a copy of Sacrifice based on nothing but the setting. And the book delivers: depicting a sense of the isolation, darkness and hard-to-penetrate community that I have always imagined exists in such places. It’s one of the most evocative books I’ve read in a long time.
It’s also a pretty good yarn: full of twists and suspense and that page-turning ‘pull’ of a good story. The complex plot is a little too convoluted in a couple of spots but overall it hangs together well and is credible within the context of the environment that Bolton has created. The traditional folklore elements of the story are well researched and integrated nicely with the modern thriller which is a rare thing and quite remarkable for a debut novel.
As far as characters go Tora is quite typical of the genre in that she’s an ordinary woman who keeps going despite the many nasty things that are done to and around her. However she’s more credible than many in these fictional situations. She doesn’t develop sudden abilities to fight like a ninja as happens so often and her decisions are within the boundaries of what the average human might choose to do in the circumstances. Her changing reflections on whether or not she could trust the people around her were a good device for advancing the plot and there are some real insights about Tora’s relationships with other women that really rang true for me. Dana Tulloch, the Detective Sergeant who investigates the case, is the other character who holds the novel together and she too grows as the story unfolds and is someone I found myself wondering about when I wasn’t reading the book. The male characters are not as well developed which is partly due to their lesser roles but even with that proviso there was room for them to be a little more than the two dimensional good guys or bad guys they were portrayed as.
I thoroughly enjoyed being transported off to the windswept and mysterious Shetland Isles and will be actively looking for Bolton’s next book.
My rating 4/5