SJ Bolton lives with her family near Oxford, one of my favorite places on Earth, lucky gal. But she grew up in Lancashire and has always been fascinated by British traditional folklore.

You’ll see the evidence of this as you read her debut novel, Sacrifice, where she skillfully weaves a centuries-0ld myth into the very fabric of her story, where deceit is the name of the day.

Obstetrician Tora Hamilton is an outsider to the Shetland Islands but to her husband, Duncan, it’s where he grew up and both of his parents still live there.  The rocky, wind-swept landscape takes getting used to, but Tora is trying to embrace this new life, along with her position at the local hospital. Her horses give her solace until the day Duncan is away on business, and a dig into the peat on their property reveals a human body. At first Tora is convinced this is a bog body, a hundreds-year-old cadaver that has been preserved in the peat, interesting but not uncommon in the area.

At least, that’s what Tora tells herself, until she uncovers more of the body, realizes it is much younger, and sees the woman’s heart has been cut out only a few days after bearing a child.

Tora becomes obsessed with finding out who murdered this new mother in such a horrible way, and what happened to her child. Her research takes her back to an ancient Shetland legend, but the evil she finds has a very modern basis, and the dark secrets she unearths lead her to a systemic destruction of everything she thought she believed in. Her faith in those around her destroyed, Tora doesn’t know who she can trust, if anyone.

Readers of Anne Cleeves Shetland Island novels will be familiar with the barren landscape and physical challenges of living in such an area, which adds to the terror as Tora’s journey takes off in a series of escalating twists.

This is a page-turning debut, a real chiller, that will have you rooting for Tora. Bolton has several other novels I’ve ordered and will report on later this summer, but this initial novel promises her to be a writer whose books you’ll be waiting for down the road.

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