The Chain

Written by Adrian McKinty

Review written by Ali Karim

Ali Karim was a Board Member of Bouchercon [The World Crime & Mystery Convention] and co-chaired programming for Bouchercon Raleigh, North Carolina in 2015. He is Assistant Editor of Shots eZine, British correspondent for The Rap Sheet and writes and reviews for many US magazines & Ezines.

The Chain
Orion Publishing
RRP: £12.99
Released: July 9 2019

The title of McKinty’s breakthrough novel could also be used to describe the reading experience – namely finding yourself chained to your chair, until you reach the end of this thought-provoking thriller.

The Chain offers the reader something beyond a fast-paced crime tale, as it forces you to confront a moral dilemma, one that will haunt you - especially if you are a parent. Like all high-concept novels, the kernel that forms the initial conceit is very simple - however, the manner that the award-winning McKinty tells his story is far more intricate.

Firstly, there’s McKinty’s ability in creating vivid and engaging characters with a deftness that makes spending time with them a true pleasure.

It starts with Rachel’s life at a pivotal junction; a divorced single mother with a health issue clouding her thoughts. She has a new teaching job, one that will help her and her daughter Kylie move on with their lives; until they get ensnared in the eponymous chain: a game of sorts with high consequences for those caught within its grip.

Teenage Kylie gets abducted.

Rachel receives a mysterious phone call. There’s a bizarre ransom, one that has two methods for Rachel to get her daughter back. Firstly she has to pay a $25,000 ransom via the anonymity of the ‘Dark Web’ and secondly, she has to kidnap a child from another family, and hold that child for ransom.

Rachel will not have her daughter returned until the next parents in the chain, follow through by paying the same ransom, and abducting yet another child.

There are caveats. She is under covert surveillance and warned that any attempt to inform the police or federal authorities will break the kidnap chain, and result in the demise of Kylie.

The dilemma Rachel faces in order to have her daughter back, is deeply troubling as she will be complicit in forcing the agony of what she is enduring, onto another innocent family. Rachel needs to get help; there’s ex-husband Marty and his new love Ginger, but it is Marty’s brother Pete that she turns to for help. However, her former brother-in-law is a troubled man himself; a former Marine who battles his inner demons with a drug habit.

With an interest in philosophy, Rachel ponders on the unholy dilemma she faces, for to do the right thing could cost her daughter’s life, but by complying to the demands of the chain, she will bring anguish to other innocents.  Rachel with her accomplice Pete, decide upon the latter option. In order to save Kylie’s life, they kidnap a child, and one with a deadly peanut allergy, hence raising the tension on the chains that bind this narrative.

The Chain is a major departure from the literary novels that featured Sean Duffy’s Northern Ireland. This new book is set in the US, it contains very short chapters, and is without doubt a thriller that has to be read in one sitting.

It is also one that provokes thought, deep thought.

Within McKinty’s The Chain rests a distant echo of Richard Matheson’s story “Button, Button” [televised for the Twilight Zone in the 1980s, and filmed by Richard Kelly as 2009’s “The Box”]. McKinty’s thriller like Matheson’s short story is one of morality and doing the ‘right thing’, when confronted by dark choices and the risk of unintended consequences that may follow.

Though much hyped, Adrian McKinty’s central conceit is an old one, that is often bent out of shape and used by many writers over the years (usually in the Horror Genre). The trope dates back to W W Jacobs’ “The Monkeys Paw” first published in 1902. But in 2019, McKinty makes it his own, decorating it with the digital world, the anonymity of the bad stuff that sits behind the flat screens connected by fibres and WiFi to servers that link our world today.

You will be chained to this book, it’s just so good.  

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