It is hard to get away from the hype that is already surrounding what is being called Adrian McKinty’s breakout novel The Chain. Given the number of books McKinty has already published it is surprising that he has not broken out before. Most of the books in his Sean Duffy series, police procedurals set in Ireland during the Troubles, have won or been shortlisted for a range of international crime fiction awards and for good reason. But in The Chain McKinty does something different – he delivers a high concept thriller that grips from the first page, proceeds at a breakneck pace and does not let go.
Single mum Rachel’s precocious thirteen year old daughter Kylie is kidnapped on her way to school. Rachel herself if on her way for an appointment with her oncologist after troubling results turned up months after the end of her cancer treatment. She never reaches that appointment, diverted by the news that Kylie has been kidnapped and in order to get her back she not only has to raise $25,000 but has to kidnap another child. She has become part of the Chain, a self-perpetuating machine in which all of the players become complicit and therefore pliable. The first half of the book charts the moral morass that Rachel finds herself in as she contemplates just what lengths she will go to, including harming others in order to rescue her daughter.
The second half of the novel changes gears slightly as Rachel, scarred by her experience, tries to go on the offensive aided by her drug-addict, ex-marine brother-in-law Pete. At this point we start to get some villains point of view chapters which chart the minds behind the Chain. There are a few twists and turns in this section but nothing that is not telegraphed many pages before.
The Chain is, if nothing else, a compulsive read. It has a three act structure which allows for a very short intake of breath in the middle before barrelling back into the action. It has none of the subtlety of McKinty’s Duffy books but clearly that is not what the global bestseller or film adaptation market is after. And in fact in those few places where the McKinty wryness pops up in this book (for example a reference at one point to a “Checkovian gun”) it feels out of place. They want a plucky, resourceful but slightly damaged heroine dealing with moral quandries, plenty of cliffhangers and moustache twirling, amoral villains. In that respect The Chain – based on a creepy almost-believable premise (loosely based on a practice of Mexican crime gangs), the immediate hook of a child in danger, and well written, page-turning action – delivers in spades.