How did it all begin? Well, I suppose it would be the day I rescued a newborn baby from a poisonous snake, heard the news of my mother’s death and encountered my first ghost. Thinking about it, I could even pinpoint the time. A few minutes before six on a Friday morning and my quiet, orderly life went into meltdown. – from Awakening, page 13 –
Clara Benning is a veterinarian living in a small English village. She likes her privacy, preferring animals to people. A childhood accident has left her face disfigured, and Clara is highly sensitive to the stares of her neighbors and has given up ever finding a man with whom to share her life. So when one morning she gets a panicked phone call from a neighbor that a viper has found its way into a newborn’s crib, Clara would like nothing more than to escape her responsibility. Instead, she heads out the door to help…and from that point on, everything changes. It seems that the snake population in the village has suddenly increased and become dangerous. Not only are the harmless grass snakes swarming, but the poisonous adders have taken to biting people without provocation and a rare, very dangerous taipan is found far from his natural Australian habitat. When an elderly man dies from an adder bite and is found to have far more poison in his blood than any one snake could inject, the mystery deepens. With the help of a handsome neighbor and an elusive snake expert, Clara begins to investigate the strange happenings which seem to be connected to one family, a burned out church and a fifty-year old tragedy.
Awakening is S.J. Bolton’s second novel and it captured me from page one. Clara is a sympathetic character – flawed and intelligent, she initially resists the attentions of her neighbors, but is steadily drawn into the mystery despite herself.
I started the engine, thinking what – in the name of all that’s reasonable – did I have to do? I worked with wild animals. I lived at the end of the quietest street in the most remote village I could find. I made a point of not knowing the names of my neighbours. I did my shopping by mail order. What exactly did I have to do to be left alone? – from Awakening, page 68 –
Bolton constructs her novel with plenty of twists, turns and tension. Much of the action takes place at night, with the wind gusting, and the threat of slithering creatures in the hedges – all designed to get the reader’s palms sweating and heart rate up. The pace allows for in depth character development without losing the suspense of plot.
Thematically, the novel explores physical vs. internal beauty, religious fanaticism, and animal cruelty. Despite the book fitting neatly into the suspense-thriller genre, it accurately depicts certain historical and religious happenings in England which weave through the plot effortlessly.
I love when a novel keeps me guessing…and even though I had thoughts about the central mystery, I found that my assumptions were often “off” just enough to keep the plot interesting. Readers who are afraid of snakes will not want to read this novel at night when they are alone – the snakes become central characters in a book which feels gothic and creepy.
S. J. Bolton has been recognized for her work through the International Thriller Writers and Mary Higgins Clark Award where she was named as a finalist. It is easy to see why she has received such accolades. Well developed, riveting, precisely plotted, and definitely a page turner, Awakening will appeal to readers who love a good suspense-thriller with gothic and literary undertones.
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