THE KILLING CHOICE
Hodder & Stoughton (www.hodder.co.uk)
A man walks with his adult daughter through a quiet park in East London. Confronted by a man in a strange mask and carrying a knife, he is offered a choice: walk away and allow his daughter to be raped, or stay and die. This decision will define him for the rest of his life, and sets in motion a series of events that sees other people offered similar choices. Almost a year since the death of his wife, DI Alex Finn is in charge of the case, and together with Mattie Paulsen, Jackie Ojo and the rest of his squad, he must find the common denominator that links these seemingly unrelated victims while navigating his new life as a single – and depressed – man.
The Killing Choice is Alex Finn’s sophomore outing, and has big shoes to fill following Will Shindler’s excellent debut. It picks up around a year after the events of that first novel, so when we renew our acquaintance with Finn, he has already worked his way through many of the stages of grief precipitated by the untimely death of his wife, Karin. The intervening period has also given Mathilde “Mattie” Paulsen time to settle in to her new role, integrate fully into Finn’s team and learn to understand her boss’s character and moods. As the story progresses there are times when these characters feel like an old married couple, heightened by the fact that both are going through rough patches, personally, in the background of what is a particularly horrendous case.
The crime that faces Finn and company this time around is an extremely clever one: unlike many other crime novels which aim to offer us an escape, The Killing Choice holds a mirror up to the reader and forces us to answer the question “what would I do faced with the same choice?” As we come to discover, as things quickly escalate, there isn’t necessarily a correct answer and so, regardless of how we feel about the choices these people make, we can’t help but sympathise with the position they find themselves in. And we’re not alone: many of the returning characters make snap judgements that they will find repeatedly challenged as the story moves forward.
Shindler also manages to fit in some insight into his investigators without impacting the pace of the core plot. Finn finds himself dealing with a bombshell when a friend of Karin’s asks to meet him and reveals that she has just received a letter from his dead wife. It seems Karin knew Finn better than he knows himself. Paulsen, meanwhile, is dealing with a bombshell of her own when she discovers that her father has been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. It’s these little touches, and the growing friendship between the pair (with nary a hint, thankfully, of sexual tension) that brings these characters to life and gives us more than a passing glimpse of what life is like outside the incident room.
Shindler’s second novel – and Finn and Paulsen’s second outing – builds on the excellent foundation laid in The Burning Men last year. Opening with the scene in the park, the author grabs our attention with his opening gambit, and immediately challenges us to consider the unthinkable. Cleverly constructed, the plot builds in interlinking layers, often leaving us as confused as his protagonists as to how these diverse components fit together. But the payoff is well worth the effort, and cements Shindler’s place on the list of crime authors to watch. Brit crime at its finest, The Killing Choice gets under your skin and keeps you entertained, and on the edge of your seat, for the duration.