Sacrifice is an utterly absorbing, addictive read. The first thing that struck me about it is the attractive heroine, Tora, who not only has a lovely name but is a great role model. She doesn’t wear her feminist credentials on her sleeve, but gets on with being a consultant obstetrician (even though she can’t have children of her own, she keeps a stiff upper lip about that), having recently moved to a farmhouse on a remote Shetland island and living there mostly on her own as Duncan, her businessman husband, is frequently away on the mainland. She’s athletic – she loves riding and sailing – and when, as the book opens, she discovers her favourite horse has died, she feels sad but simply gets on with digging a grave for it. As she digs deeper, Tora makes a grim discovery, that of the body of a young woman whose corpse has been mutilated in more than one way.
The police who respond to Tora’s phone call are not particularly sympathetic – detective Dana Tulloch in particular is silently critical from Tora’s perspective. Before Tora can fully recover from her shock, she is called to a medical emergency at the hospital where she works. She meets her boss for the first time (he’s been away), a sinisterly seductive character, and later on, has to advise on the post mortem of the dead woman.
After such a cracking start, I wasn’t sure if the book could continue at such a high yet compelling speed. My concerns were soon put to rest. The plot continues to thicken in many ways, as Tora becomes more suspicious of those around her – her boss, her impossibly handsome husband, the cold and immaculate Dana, her in-laws and even her patients begin to give her cause to feel alienated. It isn’t long, however, before Dana and Tora confront rumours and slurs about the policewoman to begin a tentative, gradually strengthening friendship.
Then, tragedy really strikes and Tora is unable to trust anyone. Her paranoia is given full rein as she insists, despite professional sanction and private threats, on pursuing her goal of discovering what happened to the dead woman and why she died. She lurches between trusting her husband and suspicion of him as he repeatedly changes his accounts of himself. When Tora makes a cruel discovery among his possessions, she becomes convinced of his guilt, and with the help of another ally, begins to work out what’s at the root of all the mysterious and threatening goings-on.
This book is fantastic right up until the last 40 or 50 pages, whereupon it falls apart bigtime. I suppose this was inevitable for such a great build up. Logical flaws in the plot (which I can’t reveal here as they would constitute spoilers), incomprehensible actions by various characters in the past (including their decision to keep silent about significant events), an unbelievably silly resolution to the mystery, and a clichéd showdown on a boat – it is all there. But never mind. It’s a great story up to that point, with three excellent, strong, independent female characters – even if the men are a bit implausible in their attributes. Even though the ending was a mess, I very much enjoyed this book; I’ll definitely be on the lookout for Awakening, the second novel by this very assured storyteller.
I thank Karen of Euro Crime for my copy of this novel.
Author website. S. J. Bolton's third novel, The Blood Harvest, is published later this year in the UK. You can read the first chapter of each of the three novels at the website.