I first stumbled across S.J. Bolton when her third novel Blood Harvest won the CWA Gold Dagger for Crime Novel of the Year. It sounded brilliant, but being the way I am, I had to start at the first book (don’t let this deter you, as yet there are no sequels and no required sequential order). Sacrifice is a masterful novel, an incredible debut, and a chillingly creepy story.
Tora Hamilton is a consultant obstetrician, new to remote Shetland, and more or less living on her own as her businessman husband Duncan is frequently away. Sacrifice begins with Tora digging a giant grave for her beloved horse (Tora’s constant can-do attitude and mental toughness are some of her best attributes), however an unexpected discovery halts her burial plan. She uncovers a female, body wrapped in linen, with the heart brutally removed from the chest and strange markings carved into her back. The police response from agents Andy Dunn and Dana Tulloch doesn’t do much to settle Tora, and so she embarks on her own investigation alongside the police, using her medical contacts to try and determine who the body in her field is.
Along the way, Tora becomes closer to Agent Tulloch, and the two begin to work in tandem. Agent Tulloch is exceptionally wary of her fellow agents, and on numerous occasions Tora is instructed that Tulloch cannot be trusted. The conspiracy it seems goes both ways, as Agent Tulloch believes her colleagues are shady and manipulative, and altogether hiding something. This sounds confusing, and it is for both Tora and the reader, but as she digs further, the reader becomes aware that not all is as it seems within the Shetland hierarchy. The plot continues to thicken as Tora too becomes more suspicious of those around her – her new boss, the police, her in-laws, her colleagues… even her husband.
After a seemingly innocent accident takes a sinister turn, Tora is unable to trust anyone. Driven by her paranoia, she insists (despite threatening attempts to persuade her otherwise) on discovering what happened to the woman in the field, and why there are so many inconsistencies and apparent coincidences in the stories of those closest to the investigation. A devastating incident with her last remaining ally pushes Tora over the edge, as she rapidly works with an unexpected friend to unravel the mystery once and for all. What does KT stand for and why does it appear so randomly? Why does the number of deaths seem to spike every few years? And why does everyone else insist that she must stop her search?
The answers to these questions will well and truly creep you out, and send you off on a mythological journey that suggests ancient folklore may not be as dead as it was once thought to be. All in all, this book is brilliant! It is thought provoking, thrilling, and an impeccable mix of crime, mystery, medical procedure and mythology. A real page turner.