In this masterful debut that starts off as a mystery and becomes much more, Tora Hamilton is an outsider at her new home on the rocky, wind-swept Shetland Islands, a hundred miles from the northeastern tip of Scotland. Though her husband grew up here, it’s the first time he’s been back in twenty years.
Digging in the peat on their new property, Tora unearths a human body, at first glance a centuries-old bog body, interesting but not uncommon. But realizing that the body is in fact much newer, that the woman’s heart has been cut out and that she was killed within a few days of bearing a child, Tora, herself an obstetrician, becomes obsessed with finding out what happened to her—even when the police, her colleagues and eventually her husband warn her against getting involved.
Sacrifice was Sharon Bolton’s debut novel and it will not be last one of her books I read because I loved the air of suspense and mystery she seems to create so effortlessly.
The book is by no means perfect as there were times I thought Tora was one step behind the reader when it came to following the clues and I’d pretty much guessed some of the bigger twists before they happened. I found myself shaking my head at Tora on more than occasion, thinking she should’ve worked some things out long before she did. Her investigative skills also left a lot to be desired, especially her insistence on using her office computer to find out the information she needed. Big brother is watching you, Tora! Having said that, Tora is a doctor not a detective so we can forgive her.
The setting in the remote Shetlands was also a spark of genius and I don’t think I’ve ever read a book set there before. While Tora is trying to get to the bottom of the mysterious death of the young woman in her backyard, she is also struggling to fit into an isolated community. We’ve all read plenty of stories where a newcomer arrives in a remote village and everyone is instantly on their guard, making life difficult but the balance is kept nicely here with just enough resistance not to make the investigation totally impossible.
The story is also intermingled with more paranormal aspects with Bolton using some of the local legends to elevate it from just another crime story and she does it well. This particular legend seems a little far fetched and if it had been invented for the book alone, I would’ve found it hard to swallow but it is a genuine myth from the islands so you will have to make up your own mind. The reality of the legend is kept ambiguous and while Tora attempts to explain it away as nothing more than deluded fantasy, there are certain things that cannot be denied and it adds more mystery.
I also liked the characters, although it did take me awhile to warm up to Tora who is somewhat of a loner, however there were certain passages describing how hard Tora found it to make friends that really struck a chord with me. I felt like the author was talking about me and it was rather spooky how accurate she was. The women are in charge in this book, battling against the old boys network, and Detective Dana Tulloch is the perfect foil for Tora. Tulloch has her own issues to deal with as a woman on the force and also an outsider in the community, but she has been there longer and is very aware of the attempts to push her back to the mainland. Tulloch and Tora become unlikely friends and allies as the investigation takes a more dangerous turn.
I really enjoyed this story and I’ve already downloaded the author’s other books which I’m looking forward to reading.