I wondered about Sacrifice for quite some time. I had heard a great deal of praise and I liked the sound of both setting and heroine. But it was, to my way of thinking, a little too hefty for a crime novel, and I suspected that it might be a little too dark, a little too gory for me.
But then I had a chance of a copy courtesy of The Great Transworld Crime Caper, and I took it as a sign that I should read this book. And I did.
The setting captured me first: Shetland, subarctic archipelago more than one hundred miles north-east of the Scottish coast. A land of granite and peat bogs, lying under rainy grey skies and battered by wind and waves. It is so vividly captured, so right for the dark, almost gothic, storyline, and its character and legends will become part of that story.
The story opens dramatically, on a stormy evening with the light slowly fading. A woman is determined to give her beloved horse a proper burial, but as she digs into the peat she finds human remains. A woman with runes carved into her skin and her heart cut out.
Tora is tired and upset, but she is determined to uncover the truth about what has happened so close to her new home.
Shetland was her husband’s birthplace, but it is new to Tora. She is struggling to find her feet, an outsider at the local hospital where she works in obstetrics, and often left alone when her husband’s work calls him away.
But now she has a mission. The invasion of her home, her professional instinct, and her nascent maternal instinct drive her forward. She was reckless, she took risks that only a fictional character would, as she began to doubt that there was anyone she could trust.
She wasn’t the most obvious heroine, but I liked her, I believed in her, and I wanted to follow her.
Her story that unfolded was dark and compelling, cleverly weaving many strands together, and with more than enough twists and turns to keep things interesting.
The darkness was palpable, but the brutality of the killing was not dwelt upon and that darkness came more from the evil that men do. Evil that was horribly believable, and had much to say about the human psyche.
If I have a complaint it is that the book was a too long. It was well structured and there was nothing that didn’t feed into the main storyline, but there was rather too much exposition for my liking and I am quite sure that the story could have been told much more economically and just as, maybe even more, effectively.
But I have to say that Sacrifice does what it sets out to do very well, and that its fine blend of gothic mystery, ancient history and myths, action and adventure quite captivated me.
Which is why now, quite against my expectations, I think I’m going to have to look out for S J Bolton’s other books …