The Blurb On The Back:
Your phone rings.
A stranger has kidnapped your child.
To free them you must abduct someone else’s child.
Your child will be released when your victim’s parents kidnap another child.
If any of these things don’t happen: your child will be killed.
You are now part of THE CHAIN.
The Review (Cut For Spoilers):
Rachel O’Neill is finally about to start her life. Divorced from her husband Matty after working to put him through law school only for him to go off with a younger woman, she then had to fight (and beat) breast cancer all while looking after their 13-year-old daughter Kylie. Now, though, she’s got a contract to teach a philosophy class at the local community college and is finally looking forward to the future.
And then the unimaginable happens. She gets a phone call from someone claiming to have kidnapped Kylie. Rachel is told not to tell the cops or the FBI. Instead she is to pay a ransom of $25,000 and then she has to kidnap another child and notify the kidnappers when she has done so. But that by itself won’t get Kylie back. All it does is ensure that her kidnappers will get *their* kidnapped child back. Rachel won’t get Kylie back until the parents of the child she kidnaps in turn kidnap another child and a ransom is paid for them. Because Rachel is in the Chain now and the Chain will never let her go …
Adrian McKinty’s standalone thriller has a great and chilling premise and is a tautly written affair with a believable main character who’s driven by her love for her daughter but I did think that the plot lost something in the final third (inevitable given a key revelation) and while the antagonists were genuinely disturbing, they also veered towards central casting at times, which risked throwing me out of the story.
The premise of the book is genuinely terrifying and forces you to question how far you would go to save your child and at the same time what you’d do if you were afraid of what could be done to you. McKinty does particularly well at showing Rachel wonder why she was picked and because she’s a philosophy teacher this has an additional intellectual element as she works through what she’s doing and why she’s doing it. McKinty is also good at showing the emotional ramifications for Rachel, Kylie and Rachel’s ex-brother-in-law Pete (who the kidnappers allowed Rachel to confide in so that he could help her) and while this is a bit of a pretext for setting up what happens in the final quarter, it was still good to see people dealing with the fallout.
For the most part I enjoyed the relationship between Rachel and Pete, if only because I liked Rachel’s no-nonsense attitude towards Pete’s drug addiction but also because while Pete could have been a bog standard muscle sidekick, the combination of his PTSD and drug use (which in turn ties in with the opioid epidemic) means that he actually becomes a vulnerability, which gives an extra dynamic to the relationships and adds tension. Equally good is the relationship between Rachel and Kylie (a good example of a kid who is smart but finds that it isn’t enough to get her out of a terrible situation and whose own PTSD feels emotionally true and is well drawn).
Unfortunately Matty is very much a stock character – a slick lawyer who’s good looking, charismatic and draw to younger women now that he’s earning the kind of money that helps to attract them. I had real difficulty believing in his relationship with Rachel or Kylie given how self-absorbed he is and to be honest, I came away feeling that he was really just there to serve the plot.
Similarly, I had mixed feelings about the antagonists. McKinty does give them additional depth through the slow reveal of backstory, which does make them more chilling but the final third undoes some of that work – partly because one of the antagonists starts to take silly risks but also because it’s skewered more to the perspective of one than the other so that you lose some of the depth and they veer towards being quite stereotypical villains.
Criticisms aside, there was a lot here that I enjoyed and the clever premise coupled with the well-handled psychological elements meant that I kept turning the pages and, as always, I am excited to see what McKinty writes next.
THE CHAIN will be released in the United Kingdom on 9th July 2019. Thanks to the Amazon Vine Programme for the review copy of this book.