Synopsis: Victim. Survivor. Abductor. Criminal. You will become each one. 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.
With a central concept that is born from every parent’s worst nightmare, The Chain is a brutally effective thriller that gets underneath the skin of the reader as it blurs the line between victim and abuser. By taking the idea of chain letters and sprinkling a bit of “dark web” magic, Adrian McKinty creates a situation that seems wildly fantastic yet unsettlingly plausible at the time. When single mum Rachel O’Neill discovers her thirteen year-old daughter Kylie has been abducted, she finds herself entangled in The Chain – a vicious sequence of criminality that requires those within it to kidnap children to ensure the safety of their own child. The simplistic notion of having to kidnap a child to rescue your own child – a perverse “pay it forward” – is chilling to the bone, and with the advent of untraceable cellphones and dark web internet connections, ever more realistic.
From the outset, McKinty’s novel dives headfirst into its conceit and the result is a frenzied kidnapping by a pair of amateurs that is overflowing with tension. The fact that the people committing these crimes are inexperienced and sloppy simply increases the suspense as the reader is torn between wanting them to succeed, yet being disgusted by their willingness to perpetuate The Chain. The initial few chapters are intense and breathe fresh life into the kidnap genre, much like the much-parodied but extremely iconic kidnapping in the original Taken. The prose is snappy and easy to devour, resulting in a fast-paced and relentless experience as Rachel is inducted into The Chain and given her own challenges to complete.
The novel is split into two parts, and there is a noticeable change in tone between the two halves. The initial half deals primarily with Rachel and Kylie’s experience with The Chain, whilst the second deals with the aftermath and expands the viewpoint to include other characters. McKinty does a fantastic job at conveying the heartache of a mother in an impossible situation, and it naturally invites readers to question whether they would do the unthinkable to save their own child. With such an emotive core, it is easy for readers to become invested in the story and its characters and McKinty deals with the realities of such a trauma to make it even more resonant for readers.
One aspect I particularly enjoyed was the complexity of the characters and their motivations, and how Rachel is positioned as both the heroine of her own story and the villain for the parents of the child she is forced to kidnap. It’s a delicious duality and Rachel struggles with her own feelings about the lengths she would go to in order to get Kylie back. McKinty digs deep into the character, and really puts her through her paces throughout the novel – both physically and mentally. She is a wonderful protagonist and even though she is forced into the role of a kidnapper, it is difficult to root against her.
The Chain is one of those books that begs to be made into a film, and while one of the major twists was a bit predictable, McKinty manages to maintain the tension and suspense through multiple key moments. One scene that had me holding my breath whilst reading was when Rachel was attempting to prevent a kidnapped child from dying of an anaphylactic reaction whilst hiding from a policeman patrolling the abandoned property she has turned into a makeshift cell. It was fantastically tense, and there are so many “spinning plates” that Rachel has to juggle to ensure her daughter’s safe return that it seems that anything can go wrong at any time.
With a chilling premise that will haunt parents for months after reading, The Chain is a thriller unlike any I have read before. Gripping from the outset and unsettlingly feasible, it is a terrifying glimpse at the dangers of digital anonymity and the influence of emotional blackmail. McKinty’s writing lives up to the promise of this fantastic concept, and I propose we start a new “chain” as readers – Read it, Love it and Pass it on.
Score – ★★★★
The Chain is available in paperback and hardback formats from Amazon and all good book stores or as a digital eBook via Amazon Kindle. It is also available as an Audible audiobook, and can be downloaded free as part of its 3-month trial promotion.