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 wherever 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 50-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.
©2009 S J Bolton (P)2010 Random House Audio Go
Awakening is another good suspense offering by S.J. Bolton.
The protagonist, Clara Benning, is a vet who has severe facial scarring and who prefers the company of animals to people. When people in her village start being bitten by poisonous snakes, she becomes involved by virtue of her experience as a vet, and things snowball from there.
The plot is full of interesting twists and turns. Trying to keep the family members straight is a little difficult, but that's part of the mystery. Bolton manages to deftly weave aspects of charismatic US snake-handling religious sects into small rural English village life. Most small villages have their idiots, and the unnamed village (which for no ascertainable reason is not identified by name) has more than its share of offerings.
As with her other work, Bolton manages to cast doubt on several characters who appear to be the bad guys. But as with her other books, the endings and the characters are surprising.
It's a good book and an interesting read. Clara Benning's experience and education don't seem to tally with her stated age in the story. She's also an irritating character in some ways, as she vacillates between dithering and refusing to take action and then taking completely unrealistic and uncharacteristic risks. The story behind her facial disfigurement is only revealed toward the end of the book, but there's no reason for it to have been kept hidden and secret for so long.
The tension and history between Clara and her alcoholic mother (who dies shortly after the book opens) isn't well developed. It's clear that Clara has serious issues about her mother, but there's not enough of that back story developed to justify the odd emphasis placed on the mother/daughter relationship in the book.
At first it was refreshing to see a book where the female lead isn't beautiful, but that doesn't last long. Clara is described as being beautiful despite the scarring, and she does indeed seem to end up having two potential romantic interests.
The narration by Alison Reid is not as good as the narration by Lisa Coleman. She tends to mispronounce words ("vetinary" as opposed to "veterinary", for example) and her American accent is not well done at all and detracts from the performance.
Audible has just started to add the S.J. Bolton works, and this is a good solid offering, even if it isn't the best example of her writing. It's a solid 4-star book, with a 3.5 star performance.
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