Fresh Blood

Name: S.J. Bolton

Title of Book: Sacrifice

'Sacrifice is an intense, fast paced thriller with numerous wonderful twists and turns that confound the reader throughout.'

Tora Hamilton has recently moved to remote Shetland with her husband, Duncan. It is while she is illegally burying her beloved horse, Jamie, that Tora unearths the body of a young woman. However, this is no woman from the Iron Age or any other age. This woman was buried in the earth only three years ago. And it wasnít a natural death - this woman had her heart cut out from her chest. She had only given birth ten days before she was killed. So, what happened to the child?

The womanís appearance is a mystery, especially as there seems to be some confusion over the womanís identity. Soon Tora begins to ask some unsettling questions. How did the woman end up in a field? And what are the strange markings that have been etched in to the poor womanís back? Why do they bare a marked resemblance to rune markings scratched on the wall in the cellar under Toraís new house? Soon she is up against a small island that is rapidly closing ranks as she begins to research and suspect a number of eminent people of long-standing on the island. Then she stumbles over something that is even bigger and more far reaching than anything she could have imagined...

S.J. Boltonís new novel, Sacrifice, is a marvellous page-turner. It is a complex thriller with a strong sense of gothic mythology. It was reading about Shetland mythology that first sparked the idea that became Sacrifice (see Authorís Q&A). From this first spark rose a tale about motherhood and a womanís desire for a child and some of the terrible events that can take that chance away.

Sacrifice is populated with very strong female characters. Tora, the local obstetrician, leads the story but is strongly supported by two police officers, Dana and Helen. It is with their support that Tora uncovers the revelation that a large conspiracy has been operating for some time. It is this discovery that links to the mythological side of the story. But there are even more surprises in store as Tora finds out something even more incredible at work in remote Shetland.

Sacrifice is an intense, fast paced thriller with numerous wonderful twists and turns that confound the reader throughout. The plot can sometimes feel a little complicated, but Bolton is excellent at setting out the details for the reader so that nothing ever gets too confusing. Sacrifice is ultimately about motherhood and the choice of giving life to a tiny human being - and how some can take that choice away from others. Sacrifice is a very assured and accomplished first novel. Bolton has certainly got off to a magnificent start with such a fine book.

Reviewed by: C.S.

CrimeSquad Rating

Fresh Blood Questionnaire

1) As it slowly evolves and increases in popularity, crime fiction seems to be organically sub-dividing into a number of widely diverse categories. Which genre (or sub-genre, evenÖ) of crime/thriller novel would you say you write in?
Last summer I heard PD James talking on exactly that subject, and it was fascinating to hear about how the genre has developed from the very early days of crime and mystery novels to the hard edged, packed-with-forensic-detail stuff we have today. Sacrifice has been described in a number of ways: medical thriller, forensic thriller, adventure story. The label I like best, though, is the one my German editor uses: Crime with a Twist.
2) What type of crime novels do you like to read? Do you prefer series or standalone?
I like the completeness of standalones; the sense of satisfaction when a story is resolved and all the loose ends tied up. A short series will work for me though; I can think of a number of trilogies Iíve very much enjoyed. When an author is writing a longer series, he or she has to work incredibly hard to prevent the books becoming formulaic; and to maintain credibility that one central character really can be involved in so much villainy. Iím not sure I could write a successful series.
3) The main thrust of the story is centred around Shetland mythology. What first attracted you to feature this in the book?
I think the story found me, rather than the other way round. I was in Aylesbury Library, researching Scandinavian and Norse mythology when I came across the legend of the Shetland Kunal Trows: a race of supernatural males, resembling humans but with supernatural powers and a very dark secret. And I began to wonder if the story could work in a modern setting.
4) Certain parts of the book focus on birth and motherhood. What drew you to this area?
I had my son relatively late in life, after several years of fertility treatment and the real possibility of childlessness. Toraís pain at her own inability to conceive comes directly from personal experience. I started writing Sacrifice when I was pregnant and continued when my son was very tiny. I was struck, during those months, by how immensely vulnerable pregnant women and women with small children are. I recall one night finding myself and my new baby in a dark and isolated car park and thinking, if I were attacked now, there is absolutely nothing I could do; I couldnít even run, if it meant leaving my son behind. The dreadful crimes that make up Sacrifice are all the worse for me because of the helplessness of the victims.
5) The book features three strong female characters. Why did you choose to drive the book using these characters?
Sacrifice is all about men exploiting women when they are least able to defend themselves. As the story progresses we see Tora quickly losing trust in each of the men around her, even her own husband, until she is almost entirely alone. Toraís two supporting characters, Dana and Helen, had to be police, to enable us to get close to the official investigation, but they couldnít be strong, protective males, or the story would have lost some of its tension.
6) Is Sacrifice the start of a series? Will any of these characters reappear in future stories?
I think thereís one more story to be got out of Tora and her friends. I have a plot outline in mind, and a setting (which wonít be Shetland) but I think Iíll let a year or two go by first. Sacrifice was never, though, intended to be the start of a series. I just donít think it credible that an obstetrician (which Tora is) could be involved in more than one (or two) gruesome crimes.
7) Without giving away the plot, which book - yours or another by another author - included your favorite plot twist of all time?
J K Rowlingís The Prisoner of Azkaban. I love the whole Harry Potter series; her ability to plot and twist is just awe-inspiring, but the third book in the series is probably my favourite. Especially when we find out who really cast the final patronus charm.
8) What is your favourite movie adaptation of a crime novel?
Iím genre-skipping a bit now, but I loved The Green Mile, directed by Frank Darabont in 1999 and starring Tom Hanks and Michael Clarke Duncan. It was adapted from the Stephen King novel of the same title that was published Dickens-like in installments and had me loitering round the newsagents waiting for the next issue. The film, for me, captures the atmosphere of Death Row in the 1930s so well (the spine-tingling crackling sound as the electric chair gets charged up) and Duncan was heart-rending as the doomed hero, John Coffey. The Green Mile is not, strictly, a crime novel, but lots of grim crimes have taken place in the background and one of them is solved during the course of the book/film, so I think it counts.
9) Would you describe yourself as a crime fiction fan in general and, if so, which authors do you most admire and why?
I love books that are exciting, with original and intriguing plot-lines, that have great pace without losing characterization, where good rages against evil, in which the tension is maintained throughout and the writing is so good it just draws me in and wonít let me go. Authors that, for me, tick a lot of those boxes include Stephen King, Thomas Harris, Dan Brown, Tess Gerritsen, J K Rowling, Kathy Reichs, Dick Francis, and John Gresham. They may not, strictly, be crime writers; they just write fabulous books.
10) What is your favourite crime read of all time?
Silence of the Lambs. Simple, compelling and utterly terrifying. Really quite brilliant.