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Tuesday 8 February 2022

‘Sacrifice’ by S J Bolton

Published by Bantam Press,
11 February 2008.
ISBN: 978-0-59305--911-1

Sacrifice ranks as probably the most unusual crime story I have read or reviewed.  It is a curious mixture of folklore, forensics and detection.  The writer, S.J.Bolton, admits to being fascinated by the Shetland Islands and the legends associated with them.  The particular one that caught her attention was the legend of the Shetland Kunal Trows, who were a race of supernatural males who stole a human wife to continue their species, the pregnancies all ended in the same way, by producing a healthy baby boy while the mother always died.

S.J.Bolton admits that when she wrote the book she had not visited the Shetland Islands.  So, in the book, it is a place of her imagination, as she writes, "a remote wild fabulous place of incomparable beauty and dark secrets".  She uses help from photographs, ordnance survey maps and the internet.  The story begins on a Shetland Island, though the precise one, I guess intentionally, is not at first named.  The reader is told that there are approximately one hundred islands, about one hundred miles from the North Eastern tip of Scotland, and about fifteen are inhabited by people,  the rest by birds, animals and assorted wild life,  so anything can happen.  Tora Guthrie, or as she insists Miss Hamilton since she is a consultant surgeon at the Franklin Stone hospital on Tronal Island neither of which actually exists, is occupied, in the opening pages, in digging a grave to bury her favourite horse, Jamie.  In the field, which is on her property, and buried in peat soil, she finds the body of a young woman which terrifyingly has a gaping hole where the heart has been cut out and, as the excavators find later, three symbols, all angular and made up of straight lines, have been carved into the victim's back.  These are recognised as cult runes by Tora, whose father-in-law is an authority on these.  Later it is discovered that the woman had given birth before she was killed.  So, all the ingredients for the legend are there.

There is a large selection of characters including police officials, medical staff, solicitors, residents, victims and their families, all woven into a carefully crafted plot.  Complications arise over murders, pregnancies, bog burials, inhabited caves and severe weather conditions.  Shetland scenery apparently imagined but sounding real, especially a memorable ride on horseback across an island, written with convincing directions and in vivid detail.  One review claims it as "a really creepy book based on one of Shetland Islands' nastier legends".  Certainly, it attracts and holds the reader to the end. I think I understand how it all resolved itself!

Reviewer: Rosemary Brown

Sharon Bolton (Also writes as S. J. Bolton) was born and brought up in Lancashire. As a child, she dreamed of becoming an actress and a dancer, studying ballet, tap and jazz from a young age and reading drama at Loughborough University. During her Loughborough years she performed at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. She spent her early career in marketing and PR before returning to full-time education to study for a Masters in Business Administration (MBA) at Warwick University, where she met her husband, Andrew. They moved to London and Sharon held a number of PR posts in the City, including working at The British Insurance and Investment Brokers' Association, The Solicitors Indemnity Fund and (as a temporary contract) National Savings. She left the City to work freelance, to start a family and to write. She and Andrew now live in a village in the Chiltern Hills, not far from Oxford, with their son

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