Substitute by Susi Holliday #BookReview

Three people live. Three people die. You make the choice.

Like any mother, Chrissie wants to protect her family. She would do anything to keep them safe. So when a mysterious stranger turns up at her door, offering to prevent the deaths of the people she loves, it sounds too good to be true. The only problem: she must choose someone to die in their place. A substitute.

When her daughter Holly has a terrible accident, Chrissie has no option but to enter the programme. In that horrifying moment, she would do anything to save her. But even after Holly makes a miraculous recovery, Chrissie is convinced it’s just a coincidence. After all, who can really control the laws of life and death?

But as the dangers to her family escalate and her chosen substitutes begin to disappear, Chrissie finds herself in an underworld of hidden laboratories and secretive doctors. And the consequences of playing by their rules are far deadlier than she ever imagined…

I'm thrilled to be sharing my review of Substitute today. Many thanks to Susi Holliday for my advance copy of the novel and happy publication day!

Who would be your three? Despite what happens during the course of Substitute, I'm sure many readers will be asking themselves that question. We all want to protect our loved ones but given the choice would we also be prepared to let somebody else die in their place? You could choose people who'd done you wrong in the past or perhaps somebody with not much time left anyway...
Chrissie understandably initially turns away the mysterious stranger, Joseph who claims he can prevent her from feeling grief ever again - as does another woman he also approaches. Most people probably would, dismissing him as a crank but then her small daughter, Holly has a frightening accident. It's clear that although her mother died twenty years ago, she still hasn't properly processed her loss; being pregnant with Holly triggered PTSD and as she lies awake in bed with tears running down her cheeks, thinking about how her mum would have loved Holly and whether she would cope if she lost any more of her loved ones, it's not surprising that her vulnerability opens her to the possibility of protecting them - and herself. Chrissie consequently reconsiders her decision, even after she learns more about the implications of what she is agreeing to, and reluctantly makes her choices. (I'm not sure I approve of one of her substitutes but I'll leave you to discover why...!) 
Joseph is a puzzling character and as the novel progresses it becomes increasingly intriguing to try to figure out what his agenda really is. What does he gain from her signing up to the programme and who is he anyway? The chapters alternate between  Chrissie in the present day as she begins to understand the true burden of her decision and Michael in the 1980s and '90s. He is a scientist who is on the verge of a remarkable breakthrough but unfortunately not everybody is as ethical as he is. His concerns are dismissed as others push for ever more dubious research and the implications as to their eventual intentions are horribly believable. As with other scientific discoveries in the past, he comes to regret his part in the development of something he once believed could have brought real benefit to humankind. Although readers have to accept that the invention of such a drug is plausible, these chapters are scarily realistic; who knows what conversations and decisions take place at the highest level, whether for money and fame, to protect the great and good or to gain a dangerous advantage in conflict?
Both storylines are equally gripping and unsettlingly suspenseful, and there are shocking revelations in the past and present as the strands are gradually drawn together for a heart-stopping, emotional conclusion. Substitute is an unbearably tense thriller but it's also a thought-provoking exploration of grief, ambition and the moral principles. Susi Holliday writes such creepy, compelling, original thrillers and the dystopic, genre-defying Substitute is no exception - I loved it! 

Substitute is published by Thomas & Mercer and can be purchased here.

About the Author
Susi (SJI) Holliday is a Scottish writer of dark fiction. She cut her teeth on flash fiction and short stories, and was shortlisted for the inaugural CWA Margery Allingham Prize in 2014. She is the UK bestselling author of the creepy and claustrophobic Banktoun trilogy (Black Wood, Willow Walk and The Damselfly), the festive serial killer thriller The Deaths of December, the supernatural mystery The Lingering, a psychological thriller set on the Trans-Siberian Express (Violet) and a horror novella (Mr Sandman). Her latest two novels (The Last Resort and Substitute) contain a speculative science edge. Her short stories have been published in magazines, newspapers and anthologies. By day, she works as a clinical research statistician. Susi divides her time between London and Edinburgh. She loves travelling, long walks, and scaring herself with horror movies.