Book Review: A Simple Choice by David Pepper

David Pepper's A Simple Choice is a political thriller featuring two outsiders caught up in a stunning conspiracy, filled with details and twists that only a true political insider could write. Read on for Doreen Sheridan's review!

When the venerable senior Senator from Maine, Duke Garber, commits suicide, the political impact reverberates through the nation. No one knows why he decided to end his life, or even exactly how, but star reporter Palmer Knight is determined to sniff out the full story. The good-looking grandson of a former senator himself, Palmer is often dismissed as a rich kid who relies more on his family connections than on his skills as a journalist to get ahead. He’s determined to prove his critics wrong, until following leads to the embassy of Saudi Arabia suddenly puts him in the crosshairs of a sophisticated deep-fake operation designed to discredit him entirely.

Palmer’s initial instinct to vigorously protest his innocence to anyone who’ll listen is curbed by a summons to the White House, where the president’s staff— including some of his best sources—ask him to roll with the punches. The opportunity to study the deep-fake operation is invaluable, and well worth the temporary blemish on one man’s reputation. As a military general tells Palmer:

“Our engineers can detect distinct traces from these videos. Not only how they’re produced, but the precise appearance and movement of Nadel and his colleagues, who we suspect are AI creations. We can match these traces up with other recent videos to affirm that they, too, are fake.”

 

“And you couldn’t do this without letting my reputation go up in flames?”

 

Lips pursed, the general shook his head.

 

“I’m afraid not. We need videos that we are one hundred percent sure are deepfake. The fact that they included both men is a gift. Sounds too. They’re clearly threatened by your story.”

While Palmer stews over the sacrifice he’s being asked to make, a young woman several states away is contemplating her own sacrifices, the result of a promise made to her dying father when she was just a child. Amity Jones has a stellar resume as a former Army JAG Corps lawyer who then went on to clerk for a Supreme Court Justice. But her first priority is and always has been looking after her mother, despite her younger brother Simon’s belief that Amity is just babying their remaining parent:

Even as her studies and service took her all over the world, she returned home often. Mom grumbled about both kids leaving her in Mansfield by herself, but Amity’s own guilt–that her helpless Mom needed her–was the stronger voice calling her home.

 

When Mom got sick, the pledge meant Amity had to move home permanently as soon as her clerkship ended. Yes, that foreclosed other rare paths of opportunity laying right before her. But the promise at Dad’s bedside echoed louder than ever.

Now Amity is back in Mansfield, Ohio, working in a boutique appellate firm while taking care of her cancer-ridden mother. When she hears that Mom’s young neighbor Colin Gentry has recently had a miraculous recovery from his own serious bout of cancer, she tries to ask his parents about his treatment, in hopes she can procure the same or similar for her mother. Unfortunately, all she gets is the cold shoulder from everyone involved. Desperate to discover the truth, she breaks out the investigative and surveillance skills she acquired in the Army and applies them to finding out Colin’s secret.

As Amity and Palmer’s seemingly unrelated paths begin to intersect, they realize that they’re gradually uncovering a conspiracy that could jeopardize entire governments and, worse, the lives of those they love. Can this unlikely duo escape a web of corruption with their ethics intact, and more importantly with their lives?

David Pepper certainly knows how to write a political page-turner. In A Simple Choice he expertly weaves a compelling tale from seemingly disparate and far-flung threads, showing how two plucky and determined protagonists can bring the truth to light, and the terrible bargains they’re forced to strike in order to protect what they deem most important. While Amity and Palmer are our main protagonists, I also really enjoyed Simon’s chapters as he attempted to support his older sister despite their differences.

Most of all, I found the discussions on ethics and civil disobedience to be both gripping and thought-provoking. While the political conspiracy bits were familiar ground for those of us already acquainted with Mr Pepper’s work, the discussion of medical ethics felt fresh and nuanced as characters argued for and against what was happening in this deftly written book. In all honesty, I don’t know what I would do if given the so-called simple choice of the book’s title. This ability to make the reader truly consider important ethical dilemmas is no small part of Mr Pepper’s talent as a storyteller.

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