Crime Fiction Alphabet: B is for Bolton

I must confess that for a very long time I left S J Bolton’s books on the library shelves, thinking that she wasn’t the author for me. Her books looked far too dark. But I did read an awful lot of praise for her books.

And so when a copy of her first novel, ‘Sacrifice’, came my way I gave it the benefit of the doubt. I’m glad I did. It was dark, but it was compelling, and it touched on some very interesting themes.

The next of her books that I read, ‘Now You See Me’, helped me understand why she was so good.

It opens with a dark and dramatic scene. Lacey Flint, a young police officer, comes home after a day at work. She sees a woman leaning against her car. She speaks, but the woman doesn’t react. She reaches out, and she finds her hand covered in blood. The woman is critically, maybe fatally, injured. Lacey responds, but it is much too late. The woman dies, and the young police officer is now a key witness in a murder enquiry.

I’d usually shy away from a scene like that, but I was pulled in. Lacey’s perspective became mine and I reacted with her.

The murder was one of a series: a psychopathic killer was copying the crimes of Jack the Ripper.  Lacey had studied the Ripper. She knew every fact, every theory. And it wasn’t by chance that she was drawn into the case.

The murders were brutal, but the brutality was balanced by a compelling plot and intelligent treatment of underlying themes. And by Lacey, a complex character who was withholding more than she was telling.

I came up with a few theories as the plot twisted and turned, but the dramatic finale still took me by surprise.

I didn’t expect to meet Lacey again, but I did. In S J Bolton’s next novel: ‘Dead Scared’.

She was sent to Cambridge University, to pose as a student. Because there had been a suspiciously high number of suicides among the students, particularly among attractive young women.

Lacey discovered that many of these students had reported having problems sleeping, had believed that intruders had been in their rooms while they slept. Something was badly wrong.

The only person at Cambridge who knew Lacey’s true identity was Evi Oliver, the psychiatrist who had triggered the investigation. Lacey and Evi found patterns, found evidence of foul play. But both were having bad dreams, troubling things were happening.

Once again, S J Bolton provided an intriguing plot, compelling characters and serious themes, and once again I was hooked as the story twisted and turned on its was to a dramatic finale.

Lacey has grown into a wonderful character and her complex relationship with her colleague, Mark Joesbury, has evolved nicely. Hopefully they’ll both be back again

I just wish I’d read ‘Blood Harvest’ before this book, as Evi made her first appearance there and it might have helped if I knew a little more of her backstory. It probably wasn’t critical, but I will read ‘Blood Harvest’ soon to find out.

As a general rule I still don’t like dark crime fiction with sensational storylines. But the writing, the plotting, the characterisation, the intelligence in SJ Bolton’s books is such that I have to make an exception for her.


The Crime Fiction Alphabet is hosted by Kerrie at Mysteries in Paradise.

“Each week, beginning Monday 21 May 2012, you have to write a blog post about crime fiction related to the letter of the week …”

So next week, B is for … ?

Clearing The Decks: Introducing Ten More Books

I am creating a home library of the books that I think I can let go after reading, or maybe let go without reading at all for my Clearing the Decks Project

The project began last year with one hundred books. By the end of the year forty books had left the premises last year, and so I’m adding forty more for 2012.

I’m introducing the books ten at a time, and so here are ten more.

Do let me know if I have a book that you’ve loved and I’ll try to make it a priority. Or a book that you’ve hated and I should think twice about.

Funeral Music by Morag Joss

International cellist Sara Selkirk is apprehensive about the charity concert in Bath’s famous Pump Room. It’s the first time she will have performed in public since the death of her lover the previous year. But, in the event, Sara’s performance is overshadowed by the death of the concert’s organiser, Matthew Sawyer. In the ensuing police investigation, many secrets are uncovered including a stolen needlework collection, an immigration racket, a headmaster’s adulterous affair with his secretary. What, if anything, do any of them have to do with Sawyer’s death?

I spotted this one in the library back when I lived in Harrow, but I didn’t get around to borrowing it before I moved. My new library didn’t have a copy,  but a little later it turned up on ReadItSwapIt …

Of Bees and Mist by Erick Satiawan

Up in the house that sits on the hill, a strange spell is brewing… To Meridia, growing up with her father Gabriel, who vanishes daily in clouds of mist, and her bewitching mother Ravenna, the outside world is a refuge. So when as a young woman her true love Daniel offers her marriage, it seems an escape to a more straightforward existence. Yet behind the welcoming façade of her new home lies a life of drudgery and a story even stranger than that she left behind. Aged retainers lurk in the background; swarms of bees appear at will, and of course, there’s her indomitable mother-in-law, Eva, hiding secrets that it will take Meridia years to unravel. Surrounded by seemingly unfathomable mysteries, can Meridia unlock the intrigues of the past, and thus protect her own family’s future?

I’m not sure, but I think I picked this up in a Waterstone’s 3 for 2 on a daytrip to Truro. I liked the look of it at the time, but I didn’t pick it up to read straight away, and when I did I was less sure.

Blood Harvest by S J Bolton

NOW YOU SEE HER… Gillian is haunted by the disappearance of her little girl two years ago. A devastating fire burned down their home, but she remains convinced her daughter survived.
NOW YOU DON’T… Ten-year-old Tom lives by the town’s neglected churchyard. Is he the only one who sees the strange, solitary child playing there? And what is she trying to tell him?
NOW YOU RUN… There’s a new vicar in town – Harry – and he’s meeting the locals. But menacing events suggest he isn’t welcome. What terrible secret is this town hiding?

Another ReadItSwapIt book

The Catch: Prize-Winning Stories by Women

In 1996, the Asham Literary Trust organized a competition of short stories by women in honour of Asham House, the house in Sussex where Virginia and Leonard Woolf lived. The competiton attracted over six hundred entries of which the judges selected thirteen which are published here together with commissioned stories by Kate Atkinson, Rachel Cusk, Louise Doughty, Candia McWilliam and Deborah Moggach. The result is a varied and sensuous collection of stories that successfully blends the work of established writers with new authors.

This one came from Any Amount of Books in Charing Cross Road years ago  – some interesting authors and a wonderful award.

The Dream Life of Sukhanov by Olga Grushkin

Stepping out into the dusk of a warm Moscow evening, esteemed art critic Anatoly Sukhanov feels on top of the world: his career is glittering, his wife is beautiful and his children are clever. But the year is 1985 and the air is heavy with change. Sukhanov’s future will be haunted by doubt. Beset by heartbreaking visions of a past he gave up, he questions his choices: in swapping a precarious life as a brilliant underground artist for comfort and security did he betray his dreams? And if his dreams are lost, what does he have left?

I spotted this one in a charity shop; the title and the author’s name rang a bell, but I couldn’t think why. When I picked the book up I found that it had been longlisted for The Orange Prize, and that seemed to be a good reason to bring it home.

School’s Out by Christophe Dufosse

When a teacher is found dead, having apparently committed suicide, his friend Pierre Hoffman takes over class 4F and finds himself responsible for a group of strangely subdued, well-behaved and yet menacing pupils. Assuming their behaviour to be a response to the trauma of their teacher’s death, Pierre Hoffman at first takes it easy with the precocious class, refusing to embrace the hostility felt by other staff members towards the children. Over the weeks that follow, however, he receives a series of signals and warnings that cause him to question the motivations of his pupils and the circumstances of his colleague’s suicide. Refusing to believe that the situation can be any more sinister than his suspicious imagination, Hoffman applauds and supports class 4F’s decision to organise a school trip to the Normandy coast. Only once the trip has begun, however, does Hoffman begin to understand the extent of their bizarre solidarity and their ultimate goal…

I picked this one up in the Oxfam Bookshop in Falmouth. The synopsis was intriguing, there was a comparison to The Secret History, and so I decided to bring the book home.

Incantation by Alice Hoffman

This is a chilling story of friendship, first love and family secrets. Estrella lives in Spain, next door to her best friend Catalina. They used to be inseparable, but then Andres, Catalina’s cousin and the boy she’s planning to marry, starts to gaze at Estrella instead. And Catalina starts to plot…Estrella’s family have always done things slightly differently. Lighting candles on a Friday, for example. But these tiny things that Estrella has done all her life suddenly add up to something huge. She discovers that she and her family are Marranos – Spanish Jews living double lives as Catholics. And soon the outside world starts to intrude on her life – the world of the Spanish Inquisition, of neighbours accusing each other, of looting and riots. It is a world where new love burns and where friendship ends in flame and ash.

I’ve been reading Alice Hoffman’s books for years, but I’d never tried any of her YA titles. This one was on offer in exchange for a book that had been on my swap list for ages, so I thought I’d give it a try.

My Sister Lives on the Mantelpiece by Annabel Pitcher

Ten-year-old Jamie Matthews has just moved to the Lake District with his Dad and his teenage sister, Jasmine for a ‘Fresh New Start’. Five years ago his sister’s twin, Rose, was blown up by a terrorist bomb. His parents are wrecked by their grief, Jasmine turns to piercing, pink hair and stops eating. The family falls apart. But Jamie hasn’t cried in all that time. To him Rose is just a distant memory. Jamie is far more interested in his cat, Roger, his birthday Spiderman T-shirt, and in keeping his new friend Sunya a secret from his dad. And in his deep longing and unshakeable belief that his Mum will come back to the family she walked out on months ago. When he sees a TV advert for a talent show, he feels certain that this will change everything and bring them all back together once and for all.

A freebie with NewBooks magazine

The Lie by Petra Hammesfahr

Nadia and Susanne have just met. They look uncannily alike, but one is filthy rich and has both a husband and a lover while the other is dirt poor and single. So, when Nadia asks Susanne to spend a weekend with her husband, how can she refuse the outrageous fee on offer? So Susanne changes her hairstyle and clothes and, one Friday afternoon, drives Nadia’s wine-red Alfa to her beautiful suburban villa. However, what appears at first to be a harmless game quickly turns into a deadly web of lies.

I read The Sinner by Petra Hammesfahr a while ago, and it was a brilliant piece of dark crime fiction. And so I checked the library copy for this one, but there wasn’t a copy to be had in the country. I forgot about it until I spotted a familiar name in a charity shop …

Stratton’s War by Laura Wilson

London, June 1940. When the body of silent screen star Mabel Morgan is found impaled on railings in Fitzrovia, the coroner rules her death as suicide, but DI Ted Stratton of the CID is not convinced. Despite opposition from his superiors, he starts asking questions, and it becomes clear that Morgan’s fatal fall from a high window may have been the work of one of Soho’s most notorious gangsters. MI5 agent Diana Calthrop, working with senior official Sir Neville Apse, is leading a covert operation when she discovers that her boss is involved in espionage. She must tread carefully – Apse is a powerful man, and she can’t risk threatening the reputation of the Secret Service. Only when Stratton’s path crosses Diana’s do they start to uncover the truth. But as they discover Morgan’s connection with Apse and their mutual links to a criminal network and a secretive pro-fascist organisation, they begin to realise that the intrigues of the Secret Service are alarmingly similar to the machinations of war-torn London’s underworld.

I’ve been meaning to read this book for ages. I’ve liked Laura Wilson’s books in the past and this one in library stock. But it only ever seemed to be available when I lacked space on my ticket, reading time, or the inclination to read this sort of book. never when I looked for it. So I nabbed a copy on ReadItSwapIt.


And that’s it for this batch. Any thoughts?

Sacrifice by S J Bolton

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 …