Book review: Blood Harvest by S. J. Bolton

Blood Harvest
S J Bolton
Bantam, 2010.

Imagine a tiny, isolated Lancashire village on the edge of the moors. There are two churches, one a ruined abbey and one recently re-opened. There’s a massive crypt under the churches that connects them. There is a graveyard whose wall, as the book opens, collapses in the heavy rain, causing the ground to sink and graves to open up. In one of these graves, that of a little girl, the bodies of two other young children emerge. The vicar, a handsome young chap, almost faints.

That’s the setting for Blood Harvest, which after this lurid opening flashes back to the previous few months, introducing us to a family, the Fletchers, who have just moved into a new house built on the ground that used to be part of the abbey, and hence overlooks it and the graveyard. The Fletchers have three young children, the eldest of whom, Tom, is bullied by lads at his local school and sees visions of a young girl among the graves and fields. Is he imagining her or not?

Harry is the recently arrived vicar, who is getting to know the community and encouraging them to attend his newly opened church. He rapidly finds that the village is in effect owned by one family, and finds himself taking part in various traditional activities under its auspices, which seem harmless enough but have an unsettling edge to them. Evi is a psychiatrist who is treating Gillian, an unstable young woman whose daughter was burned to death in a house fire a couple of years ago, and who now spends her time wandering the moors looking for the little girl – whose body, she tells Evi, was never found. Gillian acts as a link between Harry and Evi, threatening to destroy the budding romance between them. About half way through the book, we arrive in time at the events described in the beginning, when it is obvious that murders have taken place. The rest of the novel is about the police investigation as well as Harry and Evi’s attempts to uncover what happened and who is responsible.

Although I am not a fan of “sinister villager” books, especially those with a possible supernatural element in which apparently sane people like Harry constantly feel they are being watched in the vestry, I can highly recommend Blood Harvest as a very exciting read. S J Bolton cleverly weaves her web of suspicions and paranoia, drawing the reader inexorably in to the concerns and emotions of her vividly drawn main characters, as Alice Fletcher fears for her daughter’s safety – but is she worried about the child who is really in danger? Will Evi believe in Tom’s mysterious “friend” before tragedy strikes? Are various strange events practical jokes gone wrong or nasty warnings? The creepy atmosphere of the moors, as well as the abandoned church and other buildings in the area, are used to excellent effect to increase the tension. I was waiting with bated breath to find out whether the author was going to be able to pull all the strings together in the end into a credible conclusion or whether she’d cheat- and she does indeed pull it off – although I have to say it was not too difficult to work out the identity and motivation of the criminal (partly due to a dearth of potential suspects). Despite the rather overblown climax, this novel is quite a storytelling achievement, and one I very much enjoyed reading.

I borrowed this novel from the library.

Read other reviews of Blood Harvest at: Euro Crime (Michelle Peckham), The Observer (Alison Flood), The Independent (Barry Forshaw), A Work in Progress, Lost in Books.

S J Bolton’s website.
S J Bolton at Euro Crime, including reviews of her earlier books (Sacrifice and Awakening), and her latest novel Now You See Me. (These books are individual novels, not a series. My review of Sacrifice, the author’s debut novel, is here.)

16 thoughts on “Book review: Blood Harvest by S. J. Bolton

  1. Maxine – Thanks, as always, for a fine review. I liked Awakening, so I’d wondered what this one was like. It’s now on my TBR, so thank you – I think ;-).

  2. Jose Ignacio – me too, but I picked it up in the library and decided to give it a try – and thoroughly enjoyed it. Even though I got a bit irritated at some of the “is it a ghost or not?” elements I did enjoy the book a lot.
    Margot – hope you enjoy it, too.
    Thanks to both of you for your comments.

  3. I saw her at Crime Fest when she was interviewed, along with Simon Beckett, by Jake Kerridge. They were both very interesting and I was tempted to read one of her books, she is a lot prettier than Simon Beckett, but am facing a TBR mountain range.

  4. Glad you enjoyed this one–I like her books and have her newest started and must get back to it (library books being a distraction at the moment). Her endings do tend to be a little over the top, but if you can overlook that I think she does a great job telling an engrossing story. I like how she uses local folklore in her stories–it creates a nice atmosphere. And many thanks for the link back.

  5. I, too, am put off by the supernatural element, but if there is a logical, rational solution to the crimes, I can deal with the plot. However, being somewhat of a scaredy-cat, and someone who reads well into the early morning hours, I tend to shy away from books that are too frightening or suspenseful (or I won’t take out the garbage for three nights in a row!). What’s your take on that? Everyone has different requirements and taste, understood.

  6. I agree, Kathy, I don’t like being scared — and this book will not go over that line, I believe. There is nothing sensationalistic or gory (nothing like the equivalent plot scenes in The Cemetary by Paul Cleave, for example, which turned out to be schlock horror, not to my taste at all) in this book – it relies for its effect on traditional storytelling elements. I didn’t post a picture of the cover because of the crosses on graves, etc, not my scene, but the book itself is fine.

  7. Thank you for the information. Would you also say that about Bolton’s books Sacrifice and Awakening?

  8. Hello Kathy – I have not read awakening but I think it is about creepy spiders! Sacrifice, I enjoyed it a lot but I thought the last quarter was silly – just did not work for me. The first three-quarters was very good though – independent woman protagonist, exciting mystery, etc. But “what turned out to be going on” was silly.

  9. Maxine–Excellent review.
    I have read S.J.Bolton’s latest novel ‘Now you see Me’ –
    which is the first set in an urban setting.Each of her novels
    are stand alone with new characters. Her research must be
    painstaking and meticulous,and she tells a good –story-
    with lots of suspence.For these reasons–I find her impressive.

  10. Thank you, Simon, for your comment. I hope to have a copy of Now You See Me soon – I was slightly apprehensive about the serial-killer aspects but enough good reviews have persuaded me to try it! (But before it arrived I found Blood Harvest in the library….)

  11. I only strayed into temptation twice during CrimeFest, but I am glad one of the opportunities I could not resist was a signed copy of Blood Harvest. I´ll keep it for the summer holidays, though, when I have time to relish it.

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