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Monday 8 May 2017

‘The Choice’ by Samantha King

Published by Piatkus,
20 April 2017.
ISBN: 978-0-349-41465-2 (HB)

Perhaps the first thing to say about this tense debut psychological thriller is expect the unexpected.

It opens with a bang: a young mother relives the horror of the morning a masked gunman invaded her home and forced her to choose which of her ten-year-old twins he should murder. Trauma enough to knock anyone's brain for six, and Madeleine Castle plumbs the depths of post-traumatic shock for most of the first-person narrative.

Understandably, nothing she remembers, about either that horrific day or any other part of her life, feels quite real – and she rapidly begins to carry the reader along on her wave of memory, imagination and dread. Was it somehow her fault? Did she favour one twin over the other, and choose to sacrifice the one she loved less? And what is the significance of the rose bushes, the packed suitcase, the diary... all the shards of memory which are scattered around her mind, refusing to coalesce into a complete picture?

Samantha King displays an enviable knack for drawing the reader into the emotional life of her narrating protagonist; I found myself tensing up as Madeleine was about to step into danger (which she does more than once), and willing her to make the right decision and run as fast as possible in the other direction.

Another of King's talents is to build backstory. Here it's vitally important – a large part of the whole story, in fact – but it's also a skill which could stand her in good stead in future books. Her characters, too, leap off the page: Dom, Madeleine's charming, larger-than-life husband; Max, his feckless brother; Annabel and Aidan, the twins with hugely different personalities; Lucy, Maddie's outgoing and perceptive friend; Professor Hernandez, the doctor who helps her piece it all together. Even minor players such as Carol the motherly nurse, Mr Cooper the infirm but observant neighbour and Michelle the compassionate cop come across loud and clear.

If I say I spotted the villain pretty well on his first appearance, that says more about my crime-fiction-honed suspicious mind than King's ability to build narrative tension; but even though I was pretty sure of the outcome, I never for a moment wanted to stop reading. I desperately wanted Maddie to sort out the chaos in her brain and work out not only what really happened that fateful morning, but also why, and why she didn't see it coming.

This is a promising debut from a new author with plenty of skill and potential. The Choice can't be anything but a standalone, but I look forward to seeing what Samantha King does next.
Reviewer: Lynne Patrick

Samantha King is a former editor and also a qualified psychotherapist. After her childhood in the south-west of England, teenage years spent in the north-east and student days somewhere in between, she finally settled in west London where she enjoyed a career publishing other people's books, before going freelance and surrendering to a long-time urge to write her own. She lives with her husband and two young children, who inspired her to write The Choice, her debut novel. An English graduate and lifelong bookworm, Samantha is always fascinated to hear readers' opinions. You can share yours with her at: Facebook: @SamanthaKingBooks Twitter: @SamKingBooks


Lynne Patrick has been a writer ever since she could pick up a pen, and has enjoyed success with short stories, reviews and feature journalism, but never, alas, with a novel. She crossed to the dark side to become a publisher for a few years, and is proud to have launched several careers which are now burgeoning. She lives on the edge of rural Derbyshire in a house groaning with books, about half of them crime fiction.

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