Wednesday, June 04, 2008


S.J. Bolton's debut thriller, Sacrifice, is a grim story that makes the Shetland Islands seem as dark as Ann Cleeves' Raven Black did. Bolton's character, Tora Hamilton, sees the beauty of the islands, but she grows to fear the power and darkness of the lands.

Tora is a lonely woman, a consultant surgeon who followed her husband home to Tresta, one of the Shetland Islands. While he's working off island, she works in obstetrics at the local hospital. However, she lacks charm, and has difficulty making friends. It doesn't make it any easier when she finds the body of a woman buried on her land. As a doctor, she knows the woman was murdered, so she's angry when the police investigation seems to lead nowhere.

Although Tora can be a frustrating character at times, as she pushes into places she shouldn't go, her motives are understandable. "Frustrated by their lack of progress, feeling an interest that was nothing short of personal, I'd interfered again and again." Even so, it's hard to watch Tora endanger herself.

And, she does endanger herself. As she and a friendly police detective dig further, they uncover stories and superstitions about women who disappear. At every turn, they seem blocked by the powers that be. The Shetland Islands are "Islands run by a small and powerful clique of big blond men who all went to the same schools, the same Scottish universities, and whose families have known each other since the Norwegian invasions." And, Tora Hamilton, despite her marriage to an islander, is an outsider. And, her probing and picking threatens the existence of that "powerful clique of big blond men." Tora Hamilton might find herself in the same situation as the woman in her field.

Midway through Sacrifice, the book starts to drag. However, it's because of the detail of Tora's investigation. It does pick up the pace in the last 100 pages. The horrors Tora uncoers are worse than you can imagine. In addition, it had too much detail as to the bodies and medical procedures for my taste. Even so, S.J. Bolton's Sacrifice is a powerful debut. She's an author to watch.

S.J. Bolton's website is

Sacrifice by S.J. Bolton. St. Martin's Minotaur, ©2008. ISBN 9780312381134 (hardcover), 384p.

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