Located in the mountains of North Carolina near the Tennessee border, the sedate town of Rockville is rocked to its core when two students pull a Columbine-style shooting at the local high school early one morning.
Though three are killed and five wounded, the final toll would have been much worse but for the efforts of teacher Jessie Conway, who rushes into the cafeteria and confronts the shooters. When the dust settles both shooters lie dead, one at the hands of Jessie, who is also injured in the confrontation.
And while the shooting may be over, the fallout and healing are just beginning. Even after her physical wounds heal, Jessie continues to struggle to come to terms with the lingering psychological trauma from seeing people shot around her… and having taken a teenager’s life herself.
That kind of stress would be difficult enough even if Jessie and her husband, Mike, had the luxury of regrouping at their own pace, but the local media, desperate to exploit the “big city” tragedy for paper sales and TV ratings, relentlessly hounds Jessie for her firsthand account of events. Frustrated at her lack of cooperation, one local reporter digs into Jessie’s history and publishes a story with inflammatory information about Jessie’s past. And just when Jessie thinks things can’t possibly get any worse, she finds out how disturbingly wrong she is.
Enter Caleb Switch, an accomplished bowhunter who long ago grew tired of the lack of challenge hunting animals presented him. Having moved on to hunting humans, Caleb becomes fascinated with the story that unfolds in Rockville, particularly that of the tough as nails teacher who confronted two armed young men empty-handed. Believing that Jessie would present a worthy challenge, Caleb sets his sights on her, plunging both Jessie and the reader into a nightmare fight for survival.
Though she’s well known in her native Ireland and the UK, The Chosen marks author Arlene Hunt’s highest profile release here in the U.S., and what a tremendous “Pleased to meet ya!” it is. The intense outburst of violence that beings the book serves as a springboard into an exploration of the ripples and aftershocks that such an event sends throughout any community in which it occurs. On top of that stress, Hunt adds the dynamic of a very clever, and ruthless, serial killer becoming increasingly obsessed with Jessie, a plot device that adds increasing layers of tension as the story unfolds.
And though the action present in The Chosen is palpable and undeniable, it is at heart a character driven story. The stress put on Jessie’s marriage in the aftermath of the shooting is very realistically portrayed, demonstrating the frustration and confusion Mike feels over not being able to help or “fix” something tormenting his wife, as well as the hurt and anger Jessie experiences over not being allowed to work through her feelings in her own time. The small town dynamics are also spot-on, especially the closing of ranks among families and locals. Caleb Switch is also more than just a caricature, as Hunt presents portions of the book from his point of view allowing the reader insight into his thought process. Mike’s brother, Ace, initially presented as a person of questionable character and integrity, also comes to play a satisfyingly prominent role as the story progresses.
Hunt did extensive on location research for The Chosen in the U.S., specifically in the Pisgah National Forest (read her guest post). She explored the terrain, learned about hunting and weapons, and spent time in local watering holes to get the feel and pace of the people. And she completely nails it. In fact, if you didn’t know it going in there is absolutely nothing about the book that would tip you to the fact Hunt wasn’t a North Carolina or Tennessee native, let alone that she was Irish. And if Hunt can provide such a well-written and entertaining read as The Chosen presents set in a place she’s only briefly visited, I for one will definitely be going back to get acquainted with her QuicK Investigations series, which is set in her native land.