Crime readers tend to have their favourite sub-genres: cosy, police procedural, psychological – whatever – forget that, do yourself a favour, read this book. This novel is so well written, I don’t care how you define it, it’s nail biting and gripping and un-put-down-able. The Chain is unlike anything else you may have read recently and unlike anything you are likely to read anytime soon – it’s destined to be one of the thrillers of the year. If this is your first foray into the fiction of Adrian McKinty you will discover he is a fantastic writer capable of tugging the heart strings and knotting the gut. The Chain is a masterpiece of psychological crime writing, as tense as a penalty shoot out, or, if football’s not your game, as taut as a Djokovic racket. No one will be in any doubt about the talent of Adrian McKinty after reading this heart stopping thriller. Its a brilliant idea and every scintilla of tension is wrung out of the story. The Chain will chill and thrill and in any kind of fair and equitable universe it will win prizes.

This novel will be massively talked about and recommended. What I have to admit mystifies me is why more people haven’t cottoned on to how good McKinty is before now. McKinty’s Sean Duffy series for instance, set in 1980s Northern Ireland, is among the best contemporary Irish crime writing. His novels have been compared to David Peace and crime fiction expert, Barry Forshaw, says McKinty’s novels have: ‘. . .a prodigious literary reach which is every inch the equal of its ambition.’ Everything you like here has long been a feature of McKinty’s writing. The fact that he can adapt to write this book is a measure of his remarkable versatility.

Everything about this novel is positive apart from the obvious downside: The Chain earworm! If you’re familiar with Stevie Nicks words you will find yourself assailed by song phrases such as: ‘You would never break the chain’ or ‘You will never love me again.’ At regular intervals. Aargh!

It all kicks off with an early morning kidnapping. A thirteen-year-old girl is sitting at the bus stop playing with her phone when a masked man with a gun forces her into a car. A woman is driving, this is an amateur kidnap. As they speed away they are pulled over by a patrol car. When the officer sees the girl he senses something is wrong but before he can react the woman panics and shoots him. Why? Last week she wouldn’t have dreamed it but her son’s life is on the line. Kidnapping Kylie is the only way to get him back.

Kylie’s mum Rachel is on her way to her oncologist when she gets the call from the mastermind behind the kidnapping. She has to remember two things; no police and it’s not the money, it’s about The Chain:

“You’re in The Chain now.”

The woman who has Kylie then calls, they want $25,000 in bitcoin. And one more thing, Rachel has to kidnap another child to replace Kylie. Only then will her daughter be released. The woman tells Rachel she will kill Kylie if her instructions are not obeyed, anything to protect her own son. Rachel maxes out her credit card and lies to the bank to get a loan. She lies, keeping the kidnapping secret, but she can’t do this alone. Kylie’s uncle Pete is ex-military, he can help. They pick a target but the kidnapping of a boy to replace Kylie doesn’t go smoothly and then the kidnappers change the terms. Rachel, Pete and Kylie are in the middle of a nightmare and they are not alone. This is The Chain…

One of the important element of the Sean Duffy novels is their setting and the historical detail, they are political thrillers that draw on the troubles and a lot of external factors feed into the story. The Chain is all about character; psychological and emotional interiors. The reason this extraordinary plot is so plausible and chilling is the believable way characters are forced to react under pressure and with a time limit – no time to think. Ask yourself; how far you would go to get your child back? The plot of The Chain is diabolically clever. Part of the inspiration comes from the Mexican exchange kidnapping where relatives offered to replace their more vulnerable abducted love ones but it’s a wonderful work of dark imagination from a writer on top of his game.

As a lover of the Sean Duffy novels I’m still hoping for the seventh in the series soon and I have to admit I was, initially, a little disappointed to find out The Chain was a standalone set in America. My worries were side-lined the second I read the novel. I can’t imagine that there will be many thrillers this year that are more original and more exciting. I was royally entertained and stealthily robbed of my sleep. The pace, the dialogue, and the action fizz and there are enough twists in the plot to keep you guessing to the end. Dare I say it, will anyone be able to break The Chain?

I think readers groups will love this novel but then I think all crime fans will.

One last plug for the Sean Duffy novels, this is what Ian Rankin thinks:

“McKinty is one of Britain’s great contemporary crime writers and the Sean Duffy books are his masterpiece.” – Ian Rankin

Paul Burke 5/5

The Chain by Adrian McKinty
Orion 9781409189589 hbk Jul 2019