Monday, 7 January 2013

Book Review: AWAKENING by S. J. Bolton


Title: Awakening [Kindle Edition]
Author: S. J. Bolton
Publisher: Transworld Digital (April 23, 2009)
Read: Jan 01 - Jan 04 2013 on kindle

Synopsis (Goodreads):

An idyllic village is thrown into ­turmoil in the startling, heart-racing new thriller from the author of Sacrifice.

How did it all begin? I suppose it would be the day I rescued a new-born baby from a poisonous snake, heard the news of my mother’s death and encountered my first ghost . . .

Veterinary surgeon Clara Benning is young and intelligent, but practically a recluse. Disfigured by a childhood accident, she lives alone and shies away from human contact whenever possible. But when a man dies following a supposed snake bite, the victim’s post mortem shows a higher concentration of venom than could ever be found in a single snake.

Assisted by her softly spoken neighbour, and an eccentric reptile expert, Clara unravels sinister links to a barbaric ancient ritual, an abandoned house and a fifty-year-old tragedy that left the survivors fiercely secretive. Then the village’s inventive attacker strikes again, and Clara’s own solitary existence is brutally invaded.

For someone the truth must remain buried in the past — even if they have to kill to keep it there.

My thoughts:

No wonder The Times dubbed S.J. Bolton the “high priestess of rural gothic crime” after this novel was published – “Awakening” is an atmospheric, eerie, original and well-plotted mystery which kept me enthralled until the very last page. What better way to start the new year with such an excellent read!

Clara Benning, a young veterinarian disfigured in a horrific childhood accident, is living as a virtual recluse in a small village in Dorset, preferring the company of animals to that of her human counterparts. Her expertise and knowledge of reptiles prompts the local hospital to ask for Clara’s help when a local man dies from what initially looks like a snake bite, but turns into suspicious circumstances when blood tests reveal unusually high doses of lethal snake venom in his blood. The same morning Clara is asked to rescue a baby from a venomous snake curled up in her cot, and other snakes are being spotted in various households around the neighbourhood, including a deadly tropical taipan not native to the area. With villagers panicking and law enforcement trying to track down the cause of the sightings, Clara gets drawn further and further into the investigation into the mysterious happenings around town. With the help of a local policeman and a famous herpetologist, Clara conducts her own enquiries into the snake sightings, and discovers a possible link to events which occurred in the village over fifty years ago. As she draws closer to solving the mystery, Clara herself must be careful not to become the next victim.

With Clara Benning the author has created a fresh and interesting protagonist, whose knowledge of all creatures great and small provides fascinating background information to this creepy (crawly) mystery. With insight and compassion Bolton introduces a heroine who is so mentally and physically scarred that she has been avoiding human contact most of her life. As Clara gets drawn into helping solve the mysterious happenings in the village, she also slowly emerges from her self-imposed exile, growing as a person and finding that forgiveness and love may be possible for her after all. As Clara uncovers old mysteries, she also discovers truths about herself, and it was heart-warming to see her come out of her shell and grow as a person as the novel progresses.

If you are an ophiophobic you may disagree, but I found the facts about snakes and snake venom contained in this book utterly fascinating. Living in Australia, snakes are a constant presence in my life, though luckily none quite as deadly as the exotic taipan described in “Awakening”. To use snake venom – linked to an old ritual – as a murder weapon must be one of the most original plots of a murder / mystery I have read in a long time. My favourite part was when Clara walks through a field in the middle of the night and witnesses the following scene:

“Snakes … dozens of them … maybe hundreds. They were rippling through the long grass like ribbons flowing from a child’s streamer. Their bodies gleamed slick and wet, shining in the moonlight. They moved over the land with a collective purpose, a common goal, driven by an instinct I could never begin to understand. It was a grass snake swarm.[…]”

Apart from the very likeable plucky Clara, the novel swarms with other strange or slightly eccentric characters, including the Steve Irwin like herpetologist Sean North, who shares Clara’s love of reptiles. There are also some ghostly apparitions and damp haunted mansions on full-moon nights, adding an extra creep-factor to the story. Rural gothic crime indeed – I loved it, and would eagerly read more of the same genre!

“Awakenings” worked much better for me than Sacrifice, partly because for me Clara was a much more likeable protagonist – so I would highly recommend starting with it if you have never read any S. J. Bolton books. I will certainly be looking for more books from this author.

No comments:

Post a Comment