Book review: Sacrifice

Sacrifice, S J Bolton, 2008

This is the last of the novels I chose to read and review in The Great Transworld Crime Caper.

I was hooked on this book by the end of the first page. The narrator’s voice comes through clearly and she is someone you want to follow and listen to. Her story is good although it requires a fair suspension of belief, as do most thrillers. And I do think this is a thriller, rather than a crime novel.

Suspense is at the heart of the thriller. You need to believe that the principal or someone they hold dear is in danger of her life. That danger is exposed quickly in the story – slow starts are death to the thriller – and is then ratcheted up as the story continues. The obstacles pile up, no-one else believes in the threat, and the clock is ticking. Very few thrillers take the time for character development. More work is put into explaining the intricacies of the threat: the structure of terrorist cells, creating lethal viruses, the history of a particular pistol – all that geeky stuff.

Sacrifice can be read as a thriller. It has all the necessary ingredients. Tora Hamilton is a consultant gynaecologist, recently moved with her husband to his home island in the Shetlands. While trying to bury her favourite horse on land attached to their house, she uncovers a woman’s body. The woman had recently given birth, been tattooed with ancient runes and had then been killed by having her heart ripped out. The problems come as the police try to trace the woman.

Tora uses her knowledge and access to hospital databases to discover possible identities for the woman. In doing this, she uncovers birth and death trends on the islands that seem anomalous. Her husband, boss and the senior police officer working the case ridicule her idea of some sort of conspiracy, so she sets out to get more proof. She begins to suspect everyone of being involved, even her husband. She is alone and frightened.

All this is pure thriller writing. But S J Bolton is better than that. Her characters are more than mere ciphers. Tora is well rounded and the other characters, although not as well fleshed out, are believable. The plot is ludicrous but that, too, is standard for the thriller. In real life, conspiracies of more than a few people fall apart all by themselves. And in real life, any innocent person going up against serious villains will quickly be killed. But none of that matters. The plot is sensible within the context of the novel. The story is consistent and that is all we should ask of a thriller.

Tora is not the typical thriller hero, with martial arts skills and access to all types of weapon. She is vulnerable, frightened and largely powerless against the forces confronting her. She is a normal woman plunged into horrifying circumstances. This makes us identify with her and care about her.

S J Bolton has done an excellent job on Sacrifice. Grab it and prepare to lose a few hair raising hours.

Posted on March 15, 2011, in Reviews and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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