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by S. J. Bolton
Bantam, February 2008
352 pages
10.00 GBP
ISBN: 0593059115

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

I circled SACRIFICE rather nervously before picking it up . . . The dust jacket blurb made it sound like it might be a weird mix of Tess Gerritsen, Patricia Cornwell and the dreaded Dan Brown. And that's enough to make even the most hardened reviewer twitch nervously!

SACRIFICE kicks off with the main character trying to bury her horse, and making a gruesome discovery in the peaty soil that of a perfectly preserved woman with her heart missing and rune marks carved into her back.

Despite this intriguing opening, the main character seemed distant and not very engaging. But wow! The book went up like a firework about 50 pages in and never lost my interest.

Tora (well, you'd take the h out of your name if someone had named you Thora!) Hamilton is an obstetrician who's moved from London to Shetland, one of the most remote corners of Britain. Her husband Duncan, who was born on the islands, is returning for his job. Except he's away from home a heck of a lot.

It turns out that Tora has entered a bizarre closed world when the men seem to stick together, and she really doesn't know who she can trust. And they're not slow to warn her off when she starts her own digging, so to speak, into what has echoes of an ancient Shetland legend.

SACRIFICE is an absolutely outstanding debut novel, set in a beautiful but isolated part of Britain. SJ (Sharon) Bolton's fascination with traditional folklore shines through but never overwhelms what is a truly scary and unusual book.

Tora, once she warms up, turns out to be a tenacious main character and what, in some hands, might be femjep, is believable toughness in this case. And there's a thread of melancholy running through the book as Tora, desperate to have a child, must treat pregnant women every day of her working life.

And she's surrounded by some suitably enigmatic characters in the form of DS Dana Tulloch and Tora's boss Kenn Gifford who pops up when she least expects him, and who clearly has some shared history with husband Duncan.

You will maybe guess one of the plot strands, which is signalled up some time in advance, and Bolton perhaps pushes her luck a touch by using one twist twice. But won't make a blind bit of difference you will still want to see how she resolves her tale.

SACRIFICE is creepy, intelligent and powerful first novel and signals that Bolton is a writer to watch.

Reviewed by Sharon Wheeler, February 2008

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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