You're born. You live. They die. Moving to remote Shetland has been unsettling enough for consultant surgeon Tora Hamilton; even before the gruesome discovery she makes one rain-drenched afternoon…Deep in the peat soil of her field she is shocked to find the perfectly preserved body of a young woman, a gaping hole where her heart has been brutally removed and three rune marks etched into her skin. The marks bear an eerie resemblance to carvings Tora has seen all over the islands, and she quickly uncovers disturbing links to an ancient legend. But as Tora investigates she is warned by the local police, her boss, and even her husband, to leave well alone. And even though it chills her to the bone to admit it…something tells her their concern isn't genuine.
I was pleasantly surprised by this debut effort by author S.J. Bolton. The setting of the Shetland Islands off the northeast coast of Scotland is interesting and unique. An area of isolation, myth and legend, remote from the rest of the world where secrets have been hidden for decades and immense power has been hoarded. Imagine moving from bustling London to a small acreage on a stark, unforgiving island. Your husband is often away on business, you have made no friends in the six months you have been working in the nearby hospital and your beloved horse has just died. Tora Hamilton is determined to bury her horse nearby her home, even though it is illegal, and in doing so uncovers a female body buried deep in the peat, heart taken out, runes carved into her back. From here leads a strange, twisted tale of murder and mortality, ethics, fertility manipulation, cults and myths.
Bolton's prose is rawly descriptive and blunt. Events are presented in a cold and analytical way, yet to offset this the author has created a sensitive, vulnerable character in Tora, who buries her feelings of confusion, pain and loss deeply. At first I did not like Tora, thinking her weak, misguided and a little dense, but after awhile I realized she is someone juggling a lot of issues and handling them the best she is capable of. Tora has difficulty making friends and with communication. People don't warm to her readily and she knows it. She has fears, inadequacies and issues to overcome. I would describe her as having questionable self-esteem, a frustrated, nervous temperament...yet tenacity of will and a caring heart. Someone that I could relate to rather than being some grand heroine or superwoman.
Bolton does a great job of disguising the true motivations of the characters, which made the story very suspenseful. I did not like most of the characters in the novel...we are not given much background on the characters, rather just the bare bones of their lives...and actually I do not think the author wants you to like any of the characters either. The tension, disapproval and antagonism between particular characters is portrayed well and really comes across in the writing.
One word in the story - a character's career - led me to figuring out some of the plot but by no means led to unravelling everything, as the story has been very cleverly crafted. Of course there are a few plot holes and loose threads (Why exactly did Dr. Kenn Gifford state (lie?) that KT meant Keloid Trauma when he must have known it meant something else entirely...he could not have been kept in the dark about everything...but we are left to ponder!) but the premise and setting are unique which makes for an out of the ordinary read.