In the remote Shetland Islands of the British Isles, Tora Hamilton is deeply distressed by the death of her horse. While burying him in the peat fields behind her home, she is even more horrified to discover a tightly-wrapped body. When the authorities gather, it is assumed at first that Tora has made an archeological find. But upon closer examination, the body is determined to be that of a woman recently deceased. Cause of death: the heart has been surgically removed from her body.
Recently moved to the islands with her husband, Duncan, after his absence of twenty years, Tora is not a stay-at-home wife but an obstetrician soon to begin work at Franklin Stone Hospital on the island. The couple moved to this remote area when Duncan was offered a well-paying job, one that requires frequent absences, sometimes for days at a time. The ever-resourceful Tora manages until Duncan’s return, but her accidental find has shaken her: “The corpse I could deal with. It was the context that threw me.”
Throwing herself into her new job at Franklin Stone Hospital, Tora is further unnerved by her boss’s personality, Kenn Gifford strangely charismatic, if demanding. Rushing from the delivery of one baby to another, Tora barely has time to mourn her own lack of fertility, torn between spending time at her job and the continuing police activity at her home. Tora’s naturally curious mind is both a curse and a blessing as she stubbornly researches recent births, deaths, and the fate of a young woman buried in her back yard.
While the police have an explanation readily at hand, Tora resists the calm assurances of Detective Inspector Andy Dunn, far more comfortable with another member of the department - the aloof but brilliant Detective Sergeant Dana Tulloch. While the two women don’t exactly bond, they are drawn together by a growing suspicion that nothing is what it first seems, a plot that reaches far beyond the murder of one woman.
Thus begins an extraordinary tale of evil stunning in its complexity, an unfolding nightmare that sends both women into the dark heart of a heinous crime that is only the beginning of their discoveries. Trusting no one but each other, Tora and Dana are no match for this well-protected secret, even Duncan unavailable when Tora need him most. Building the tension layer by layer, Bolton describes a series of acts so unthinkable that even Tora is barely able to wrap her mind around the implications: “The idea that I’d dug my own grave and found it occupied sprang into my head.”
Failing to heed the cautionary warnings of her husband or her boss, Tora is compelled to follow the trail of evidence, like Gretel following the crumbs to the witch’s cottage, unable to resist the answers that have so far eluded her. She nearly pays with her life, but even that might be more palatable than the truth. Each of Bolton’s brilliant thrillers (Awakening, Blood Harvest) is more impressive than the last.