Dubbed ‘the unique and unforgettable thriller of the year’ and with ringing endorsements by some of the masters the genre (‘incredibly propulsive’ – Stephen King; ‘a masterpiece’ – Don Winslow; ‘a must-read thriller’ – James Swallow), The Chain by Adrian McKinty has rather a lot to live up to, but, remarkably, it doesn’t disappoint. It really is everything its endorsers have said: scary, plausible, gripping, breath-taking, breakneck, brilliant, diabolical, unnerving, relentless. It’s hard, therefore, to add anything of note to this already spot-on analysis, but for me, the two qualities I’d add into the mix would be original and heart-racing.
Indeed, one of the increasing problems in an ever-saturated thriller market is to find a story that doesn’t feel like an imitation of another, that offers something truly different, and McKinty delivers this exceptionally, with a story borne out of the phenomenon of chain letters and the practice of kidnap exchange in Mexico. Both contexts in themselves are appealing, but it is McKinty’s incredible vision and imagination to pull these two strands together that transforms the plot and narrative into something so original. Meanwhile, it is the characters, and in particular the humanity of its main protagonist Rachel, a mother whose daughter has been kidnapped, that gives the novel its heart-racing urgency. McKinty has taken a scenario that seems utterly implausible (a chain of kidnappings in which each person who has had a loved one kidnapped must kidnap someone else to enact the release of their own family member) but at the same undeniably relatable because of the human aspect of it. Rachel and her daughter Kylie could be anyone, everyone. Just as those before and after them in the Chain could be all of us. The novel preys on the idea of the absolute power of love and the devotion to protect those we love, to the exclusion of all else, including ultimately our ethics and morality. It is both a fascinating and scary reality and McKinty captures it perfectly.
The novel is split into two parts; the first which focuses on carrying out the orders of the Chain and the second which turns to the plan to dismantle the Chain. I had expected the story to be exclusively about Rachel’s fulfilling of her role as both victim and kidnapper, so it was interesting to see the author use this as only part of the narrative. In some ways, I did find the first part more gripping, but the second part allows the reader to discover more about those behind the Chain, their motivations and characters and the origins of the idea. And it’s easy to understand, particularly, in this second part, why the novel has prompted a seven-figure film deal from Paramount. At times, thanks to McKinty’s scene-setting, it’s impossible not to visualise the action, and it certainly reads like the script of some multi-million-dollar action movie. I suspect, in the right hands, the story could make a hugely successful transition to the big screen, but it’ll be a case of watching this space. However, I absolutely urge readers to pick up this novel and read it as it was intended, as not only do you get to enjoy these cinematic qualities to the story but also the emotional and mental insights of the characters that give the action its meaning and impetus.
And if you’re wondering about the flaws in this book, there is one major one that continues to plague me even after I’ve finished reading. If you’re familiar with Fleetwood Mac’s song of the same name and happen to read the epigraph, you won’t be able to get the melody out of your head for a very, very, long time. (If Paramount do make the movie, what are the chances of them using this as part of the soundtrack and it getting stuck in my head once more?!)
In all seriousness, though, McKinty’s novel really is a superb feat of thriller writing. Yes, it gets a bit overblown in the action stakes at times and its finale steam-rollers to its conclusion, but you will be hard-pressed to find another book quite so tense and gripping, and one that so effectively makes the reader put themselves in the central character’s shoes and experience both the terror of being the victim and the culprit. It is a thriller with universal appeal because it taps into the very core of our humanity and as such it is all the more frightening.
J. Craddock 4.5*
The Chain by Adrian McKinty
Orion 9781409189589 hbk Jul 2019