"Dead Woman Walking" by Sharon Bolton: A Good Read

Updated on January 5, 2020
Beth Eaglescliffe profile image

I teach creative writing to adults and love helping my students improve their writing skills.

A magical hot air balloon ride becomes a nightmare death-trap.
A magical hot air balloon ride becomes a nightmare death-trap. | Source

Dead Woman Walking by Sharon Bolton

Dead Woman Walking entered the best seller lists within weeks of publication in 2017. Sharon Bolton, winner of the Mary Higgins Clark Award, the ITW Thriller Award, and the CWA Gold Dagger has created an engaging and thrilling novel.

The story is packed with controversial and thought-provoking topics including people smuggling, money laundering, blackmail, and the relevance of religion to modern life. Sharon Bolton also includes incest, and human organ trafficking in this plot driven tale. No character is left untouched by the ripples billowing out from the main story-line. All-in-all this book is a gripping and exciting read.

Official Book Trailer - Dead Woman Walking by Sharon Bolton

She’s Seen the Killer’s Face

The story centers around a fatal hot air balloon crash. There is just one survivor and she has witnessed a murder. The plot at first seems simple. The murderer must find and kill the witness before she contacts the police. But the witness disappears and neither police nor killer seem able to track her down.
Dead Woman Walking is set in the Northumberland National Park in the north of England. The rural landscape is the perfect setting for nefarious activities that need to be hidden from nosy neighbors. The protagonists are able to hide or be hidden with little chance of discovery. So, who is the witness and why hasn’t she gone straight to the police to report the accident and the murder?
This book is difficult to review without giving away too much of the plot. It is a good read and my attention was held from start to finish. There is some deliberate misdirection by the author. It’s like the classic magic trick where a magician’s sleight of hand fools your eyes. The surprise ending to this mystery thriller is achieved by making you look elsewhere at a crucial points in the tale.

Map Showing Key Plot Locations

Northumberland National Park:
Northumberland National Park, United Kingdom

get directions

Very few houses or people in the National Park

Kelso TD5, UK

get directions

Hot air ballon flight starts here.

Kirk Yetholm:
Kirk Yetholm, Kelso TD5 8PQ, UK

get directions

Site of balloon's crash-landing.

Killer Thriller Tension Maintained Throughout

The key to the tension of the story is changes in viewpoint and time period from chapter to chapter. The events of the present are interspersed with events from the past, gradually revealing the real motivation behind a character’s actions.

There are murders and near-misses. There is kindness and cruelty. The writing style swings between detailed visual descriptions and short passages of choppy dialogue. Plot tension is maintained with brief chapters and lots of unexpected twists.

Without giving too much away, I can tell you that the solution includes a case of mistaken identity, blackmail, and some unexpected family connections between key characters. The last chapter ties up all the loose ends of the mystery. This gives a satisfying if a somewhat unreal ending to the book. Personally, I would have liked to have been left wondering about a few of the threads of this complex story.

Northumberland National Park is mainly uninhabited moorland.
Northumberland National Park is mainly uninhabited moorland. | Source

Plot Twists and Turns

There are a lot of complex issues squeezed into this book. This gives added suspense to the tale, but for me there were almost too many subplots. The story includes serendipitous coincidences enabling the author to move the plot forward in unexpected ways. She gives herself leeway to get characters out of seemingly dead-end situations. However, I found this a little forced in parts and detracted from what was otherwise a really gripping read.

The plot revolves around two sisters and the different paths their lives have taken. One joined the police force while the other took holy orders. The memories and experiences of the living one are interspersed with the diary entries of the one that has died. This gives two differing viewpoints of events and makes one question how often “facts” are just a mirage. No character is flawless, but the main protagonists have sympathetic traits which make this story an engaging read.

A thriller with unexpected plot twists, a page-turner of a novel.
A thriller with unexpected plot twists, a page-turner of a novel. | Source

A Good Read For Book Clubs

This book was recommended to me by a member of my reading group. Each month we take it in turns to choose the following month’s novel. It’s a great way to read outside your usual genre and find some new favorites. Discussing a book you’ve all read is a very sociable activity. It can give you new insights on a novel. It’s helpful to have a few questions prepared to get a good discussion started. I have made a few suggestions below.

Dead Woman Walking was advertised as an “action-packed thriller” and it lives up to that description. The story drew me in and kept me glued to the page. I couldn’t put it down and finished the entire book within three days (I took time out to eat and sleep!) It's easy to see why this was a Sunday Times Top Ten Best Seller in 2017 and 2018. I recommend you read the book too.

Reading Group Questions

There are no right or wrong answers to these questions. The aim is to get the group talking about this book and exchange differing views about what did or did not make it a good read.

  1. Which hero or villain in the story did you identify with the most?
  2. Did you find the ending satisfying? Was it realistic?
  3. At what stage in the story did you realize that a character was not who you thought they were?
  4. How does the landscape affect the plot?
  5. How significant is the color green in this novel? (Green items of clothing are highlighted on the book-jacket image.)
  6. How do cell-phones influence the story?

Green, the color of life, renewal, nature, and energy, is associated with meanings of growth, harmony, freshness, safety, fertility, and environment. Green is also traditionally associated with money, finances, banking, ambition, greed, jealousy, and Wall Street.

— Jennifer Bourn
What is the significance of the green fabric highlighted on both covers?
What is the significance of the green fabric highlighted on both covers? | Source

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.


Submit a Comment
  • Pamela99 profile image

    Pamela Oglesby 

    2 months ago from Sunny Florida

    This book sounds very much like the kind I would not want to put down. I have never read anything by this author. I also think the book club is a great idea and I like the questions that should be answered. Thanks for a very good review.


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